Japan’s PM says country faces ‘most severe and complex security

Prime Minister Fumio Kishida has said Japan faces the severest security environment since the end of World War II, pledging to push a military build-up and tackle a rapidly declining birth rate.

Key points:

  • Fumio Kishida says his new defence strategy is a “drastic turnaround” of Japan’s previous security policy
  • The country plans to double its defence budget to $474.5 billion in five years 
  • His government also wants a “children-first” society to slow its declining population 

In December, Mr Kishida’s government adopted key security and defence reforms, including a counterstrike capability that slightly eases the country’s exclusively post-war, self-defence-only principle.

Japan has said the current deployment of missile interceptors was insufficient to defend it from rapid weapons advancement in China and North Korea.

In his policy speech opening this year’s parliamentary session, Mr Kishida said active diplomacy should be prioritised, but required “defence power to back it up”.

He said Japan’s new security strategy was based on a realistic simulation “as we face the most severe and complex security environment since the end of World War II and a question if we can protect the people’s lives in an emergency”.

Japanese parliament filled. Japan has seen a shift in policy over the past few months. (Reuters: Kim Kyung-Hoon)

The strategy will seek to keep in check China’s increasingly assertive territorial ambitions, but has also been a sensitive issue for many countries in Asia that were victims of Japanese wartime aggression.

Mr Kishida said it was a “drastic turnaround” of Japan’s security policy, but remained within the limitations of its pacifist constitution and international law.

“I make it clear that there will not be even a slightest change from Japan’s non-nuclear and self-defence-only principles and our footsteps as a peace-loving country,” Mr Kishida said.

This month, Mr Kishida took a five-nation tour — including to Washington DC in the US — to explain Japan’s new defence plan and further develop defence ties with its ally the United States.

Japan plans to nearly double its defence budget within five years, to 43 trillion yen ($474.5 billion) and improve its cyberspace and intelligence capabilities.

While three-quarters of an annual defence budget increase can be squeezed out through spending and fiscal reforms, the remainder needs to come from a possible tax increase.

Mr Kishida has already faced growing criticism from his opposition and even from his governing party.

Japan ‘cannot waste any time’ on population

Mr Kishida also addressed the critical question of population growth.

“We cannot waste any time on the policies for children and child-rearing support,” he said.

“We must establish a children-first economic society and turn around the birth rate.”

Japan’s population of more than 125 million has been declining for 14 years and is projected to fall to 86.7 million by 2060.

A shrinking, ageing population has huge implications for the nation’s economy and its national security.

Mr Kishida pledged to bolster financial support for families with children, including more scholarships, and said he would compile a plan by June.

Japan is the world’s third-largest economy but living costs are high and wage increases have been slow.

The conservative government has lagged behind on making society more inclusive for children, women and minorities.

So far, efforts to encourage people to have more babies have had limited impact, despite payments of subsidies for pregnancy, childbirth and child care.

Some experts have said that government subsidies tended to target parents who already have children, rather than removing difficulties that are discouraging young people from having families.