Japan is introducing a new $6.75 billion annual budget to bolster its air and sea defenses, including advanced monitoring equipment, equipment needed to deal with crises in Northeast Asia, the country’s defense minister said Monday.
The figure adds to a $18.8 billion budget set aside for national defense last year. The largest military budget increase in more than five years reflects deep concerns over the unprecedented ballistic missile tests and escalating military tensions with North Korea, the ministry said.
“This new budget is the cornerstone of an effort to ensure full employment, social peace and peace,” Defense Minister Itsunori Onodera told a news conference.
Three years after taking office, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has launched a dramatic push to re-energize Japan’s 60-year-old military after past U.S.-inspired steps produced diminished clout.
Expanded defense spending is a key priority as worries mount about security threats from China, North Korea and other countries in the region, including China.
China’s new weapons and technological sophistication are likely causing international security concerns, Onodera said. He said the planned procurement for satellites and aircraft are essential to better monitor China’s expanding military capability.
China, Japan’s biggest trade partner, is not the only military threat. North Korea’s missile tests are “a potential threat” and warrant constant vigilance, Onodera said.
North Korea this month conducted the latest of more than 30 missile launches since November, on the heels of a November nuclear test, sending a new missile over northern Japan’s Hokkaido island and continuing to improve its military capability.
Onodera said the new budget plan includes $7.38 billion to buy advanced equipment such as network monitoring equipment, to aid in crisis response. It includes 50 percent more funds for high-frequency maritime-frequency satellite communications.
North Korea has shown a range of military capabilities, most recently a bold test-launch of its longest-range missile that put the U.S. territory of Guam within range. Pyongyang has vowed to continue its nuclear weapons and missile programs despite worldwide pressure for it to scale back its weapons programs.
Analysts say the rising defense spending is aimed at ensuring Japan’s military is ready to respond to threats, especially from China.
In recent years, regional tensions have spiked and North Korea has fired missiles that potentially could reach the American territory of Guam.
Abe’s popularity ratings have plummeted amid an uncomfortable shift toward the pacifist Constitution, which enshrines the war-renouncing, but widely respected, Article 9 of the Constitution. Its clauses explicitly ban the military from waging war, but Abe in 2015 his government eased the Constitution’s constraints and enacted new powers for the military.
Many Japanese are unhappy with the move and not all political parties support the defense expenditures.
However, their opposition to an increased military presence in the region hasn’t been reflected in public opinion polls.
With a population of about 127 million, Japan has one of the world’s largest militaries at more than 670,000 troops and 1,140 ships. But it is also burdened by one of the world’s lowest population-sizes, with about 127 million of the country’s 127 million people expected to retire in coming years.
Some economists say that the economic impact of a growing military budget could slow Japan’s economic growth.
Critics of the boost in military spending accuse Abe of putting his political interests ahead of those of Japan’s people.
One prominent critic of the increase in defense spending is the pacifist group “Japan Defense Forum,” which urges Japan to refrain from any increase in defense spending.
The group is composed mainly of former or retired military personnel and former government officials who say that despite a big increase in military budget, Japan still has a low defense profile relative to the size of its population and defense capabilities.
They say Japan is still able to cope with the threat posed by North Korea, through deterrence, while helping South Korea cope with its concern over the North’s missile tests.