Japan is reacting to China's striving for power and the threat posed by North Korea with a massive military build-up. Prime Minister Fumio Kishida's government decided on a historic change in Japan's security strategy: turning away from the security doctrine, which was previously exclusively focused on defense, the US ally wants to be able to eliminate enemy missile positions in the future.
Japan intends to spend around 43 trillion yen (297 billion euros) on defense over the next five years. The defense budget is to amount to two percent of gross domestic product instead of the previous one.
The change of course comes amid what the government describes as the "serious and most complicated" security environment since World War II. China's military presence in the region represents "the greatest strategic challenge" of all time, according to the new security paper. Japan's protecting power, the USA, formulates it in a similar way. According to security experts, the new defense strategy shows how worried Japan is about China's increasing military power struggle.
In Japan, for example, there are fears that China could one day reach for democratic Taiwan in a similar way to Russia with Ukraine. Also of concern is the almost constant presence of Chinese Coast Guard vessels in waters around the Senkaku archipelago in the East China Sea, which is controlled by Japan but also claimed by China and Taiwan. Japan appears to be more concerned with thwarting China's ambitions to strengthen its military presence in nearby waters than with protecting itself against North Korea's missile and nuclear weapons threats, the Japanese news agency Kyodo wrote, citing experts.
"Heralded a new era in the defense of democracy"
Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida has heralded a "new era in the defense of democracy," US Ambassador Rahm Emanuel wrote on Friday. Kishida made a "clear, unequivocal strategic statement on Japan's role as a security provider in the Indo-Pacific." According to the media, with two percent of its economic output, Japan would in future have the third largest military budget in the world after the USA and China.
The central point of the new security strategy is the so-called "counterattack capability". Japan can therefore launch a counterstrike under three conditions: when Japan is attacked or an attack on a friendly nation threatens Japan's survival; there are no suitable means of repelling an attack and as long as the use of force is kept to a minimum. This is "essential" to ward off missile attacks, Kishida explained. Among other things, Japan wants to buy cruise missiles from the protecting power USA.
Missile defense alone is no longer sufficient to deal with the "significant increase" in the missile arsenals of countries like China and North Korea, according to the Japanese government. However, it is uncertain to what extent the possession of weapons for "counterstrike" can act as a deterrent. The government in Tokyo emphasizes that it will continue to adhere to a policy geared exclusively to self-defence. Japan will not become a military power.
Right to "collective self-defense"
Japan has long considered shutting down missile positions on enemy territory in an emergency as a permissible act of self-defense and therefore in line with the pacifist post-war constitution. But in view of the US nuclear shield, Japan had so far refrained from putting itself in a position to do so with its own weapons. This is about to change.
The new security strategy builds on the reforms of recently assassinated ex-Prime Minister Shinzo Abe. Among other things, the right-wing conservative pushed through controversial security laws in 2015 that enable combat operations by the Japanese "Self-Defense Forces" abroad. Japan has thus received the right to "collective self-defense" and may fight alongside the United States in future conflicts, even if it is not directly attacked.
Critics complained that the pacifist post-war constitution had become obsolete. At that time there were the largest mass protests in five decades. This time, however, there were no mass protests. In the face of a "turning point in history," his government will "defend its own nation and people," Kishida assured.