With one eye on China’s political turmoil under Xi Jinping and the other on the rising threat of North Korea’s dictatorship, Japan said on Monday it intended to double its military spending over the next five years.
The announcement was made by Defense Minister Yasukazu Hamada after a meeting with Prime Minister Fumio Kishida and Finance Minister Sunhichi Suzuki. “He [Kishida] asked us to make every effort to secure the necessary funding quickly and firmly,” he said.
According to him, the goal is to reach 2% of GDP (Gross Domestic Product), which is enormous for the third largest economy in the world, in nominal terms: without coincidence, the highest expenses are those of the two countries ahead of it in the ranking, China and United States.
According to the International Institute for Strategic Studies (London), Tokyo spent US$49.3 billion on defense in 2021, equivalent to 0.96% of its GDP. The 2% target is the standard set as desired by NATO (US-led military alliance in the West). Nominally, it is the eighth largest military budget in the world, slightly more than double Brazil’s.
With the measure, Kishida consolidates a path opened by Shinzo Abe, who was Prime Minister from 2006 to 2007 and then held the post from 2012 to 2020. a more militaristic course for Japan — he was assassinated last year during a rally.
As of 2012, the level of Japanese military spending has jumped by almost 20%. It is a turning point in the country’s traditional politics after its defeat in World War II. As an American protectorate, the country adopted a pacifist Constitution, which prohibits Armed Forces aiming offensive operations.
Naturally, this generated a lot of internal tension, among sectors of the population traumatized by the destruction of the country, including two atomic detonations by the USA, in the war from 1941 to 1945. On the other hand, the most radical nationalism was always very strong, as the link of Abe with far-right groups and his constant visits to Yasukuni shrine showed.
Located in Tokyo, the Yasukuni is a Shinto shrine honoring 2.5 million Japanese who fell in combat in World War II, including about 1,000 convicted of war crimes.
The Cold War 2.0, launched in 2017 by the Donald Trump administration as a reaction to Xi’s rise as China’s increasingly assertive leader, determined the acceleration of the militarist course.
At that time, the republican did not exactly inspire confidence among the Japanese and other allies, such as the South Koreans, and even the taboo on the development of nuclear weapons was faced in the public debate in these countries.
Under Democrat Joe Biden, starting in 2021, the game has changed, with the US more intensely attracting its Indo-Pacific partners against China. Washington signed a controversial military pact with Australia and the United Kingdom and strengthened the Quad, a group that includes precisely Washington, Tokyo, New Delhi and Canberra in an alliance against Beijing.
Threats of Taiwan’s forced reintegration into China and repression in Hong Kong sparked signs in the region, as did Xi’s alliance with Vladimir Putin’s Russia, the protagonist of the ongoing great war in Ukraine.
On the other hand, Beijing is facing a delicate moment internally, with economic problems and protests against the government’s Covid-zero policy, and has opened wider channels with the Americans – including the first Xi-Biden meeting.
In this sense, Japan may also be anticipating an eventual rapprochement between the US and China, aiming to guarantee its interests.
Abe’s departure from power in 2020 and the short reign of his successor Yoshihide Suga paved the way for Kishida. In addition to atavistic fears about the intentions of the Chinese colossus across the Sea of Japan, Tokyo also has growing concerns about the Korean peninsula.
On more than one occasion this year, North Korea has test-fired ballistic missiles that crossed into northern Japanese territory, raising alarms in locations on the island of Hokkaido. Aggressive rhetoric from nuclear-armed Pyongyang is aimed at forcing the US to sit at the negotiating table to ease sanctions against Kim Jong-un’s dictatorship.
The danger perceived in Tokyo is that of not presenting a sufficient dissuasive force to face Kim, who sees the Japanese as minority and weaker partners in the arc of alliances of the Americans. The increase in spending, which already follows an ongoing rearmament program since 2019, is also in line with this.
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