At the start of this year, North Korea continued firing missiles toward the Sea of Japan. China has also been conducting its own military activity in East Asia. Even though it would be reasonable for Japan to prepare for threats to its national security, calm judgment and cautious responses are critical in order to avoid increasing regional tensions even more through strengthening deterrence ability measures.
Last week, in the first full-scale video conference leadership meeting with the U.S. President Joe Biden, Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida detailed plans “to fundamentally reinforce Japan’s defense capabilities.” The U.S., Japan, Australia and India have also agreed to hold a leadership summit this spring in Japan.
The focus for both leaders was on China, which has been gaining military and economic strength. COVID-19 has brought to the forefront China’s grip on the international supply chain of goods and increased influence. Another urgent issue was managing high technology, which is feared to have been diverted for military use. Currently, as the leadership shares a sense of impending crisis, an assembly of cabinet officials in charge of foreign affairs and economics has been established, and both leaders are touting a cooperative policy toward economic security.
In a meeting of foreign affairs and economic leaders, prior to the U.S.-Japan leadership summit, progress on a “joint operation plan” for use in a state of emergency was confirmed. The leadership surely had the possibility of a crisis in the Taiwan Strait in mind. A pact was also signed, stipulating the promotion of shared facilities for the U.S. Forces Japan and the Japan Self-Defense Forces, as well as collaborative research on how to deal with the latest weapons that China, North Korea and Russia are continuing to develop, such as hypersonic missiles.
The unresolved issue of Japan’s increase in monetary responsibility for stationing U.S. Forces Japan troops (known as the “compassionate budget”) was also settled, with a total estimated cost of 1.55 trillion yen over five years, starting from 2022. In a bid to avoid criticism, the Japanese government has dubbed this increase, which includes expenses such as training U.S. troops, an “alliance resilience budget.”
A point that cannot be overlooked is Kishida’s argument that Japan should maintain missiles capable of striking enemy bases within the borders of other countries, which he discussed with Biden. The prime minister does not specifically allude to what type of abilities this might entail, but it is critical to have a careful discussion that ensures that stays within postwar Japan’s policy of nonaggressive defense.
Considering the environment surrounding Japan’s national security, it is perhaps inevitable that Japan will need to strengthen its relationship with the U.S. and boost its degree of deterrence ability. However, overreliance on the military carries the risk of, conversely, further inciting China and North Korea, which could lead to unexpected outcomes.
The problem is that while Japan complies with U.S. demands for increased military spending, there is no Japan-specific strategy for a detente in sight. In particular, the number of phone conversations that Kishida has had with Chinese President Xi Jinping immediately since taking office have been few. We would like to see more encouragement toward engaging with China.
The government has plans to make revisions to three documents related to national security this year; this week, it began work on a full-scale investigation of the task. This moment is a critical juncture for national security policy. We hope that these matters will be carefully explained to the citizens, as the National Diet fully commits to careful deliberation.