(CNSNews.com) – Japan’s biggest defense policy shift in the postwar era is drawing flak from China – which Tokyo on Friday identified as the “greatest strategic challenge” – while some Japanese are unhappy at the tax increases expected as a result of a government pledge to double defense spending.
An opinion poll by Kyodo News on Sunday found 64 percent of respondents oppose proposed tax hikes to help finance a commitment by Prime Minister Fumio Kishida to lift military expenditure to two percent of national GDP through 2027.
As far as the broader policy changes go, however, the same poll found that the new strategy’s centerpiece – plans to develop preemptive strike capability in the face of regional threats – is less controversial than the tax rises, with 50.3 percent of respondents saying they support the policy, and 42.6 percent disapproving.
Still, some Japanese opposed to the moves demonstrated outside Kishida’s office, calling them unconstitutional.
The national security strategy adopted on Friday cited challenges posed by China, Russia, and North Korea, and said that Japan “faces the severest and most complicated national security environment since the end of the [second world] war.”
Given Beijing’s arms buildup and military assertiveness in the region, China was singled out as the “greatest strategic challenge” to Japan’s peace and security, and that of the international community.
Kishida said developing a preemptive strike capability – his government is formally calling it a “counter-strike” capability – will be vital if Japan is to deter enemy attack.
In October, North Korea test-fired a missile that overflew Japan, for the first time in five years. Last month, Chinese and Russian strategic bombers flew a joint mission near Japan and South Korea, encroaching into the U.S. allies’ air defense identification zones without notice.
The United States has long nudged its treaty ally to move away from the more restrictive elements of its pacifist constitution – a constitution drafted by the U.S. after defeating Imperial Japan in 1945 – and the Biden administration welcomed Friday’s announcements.
Neither Secretary of State Antony Blinken nor National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan mentioned China by name, but alluded to it by highlighting the need to “protect the rules-based order in the Indo-Pacific region” and to “defend the free and open Indo-Pacific.”
Washington accuses China of threatening the “rules-based” international order and threatening “free and open” navigation by employing an increasingly muscular approach in support of its territorial and maritime claims in disputed areas of the South and East China Sea.
“We applaud Japan’s commitment to modernize our alliance through increased investment in enhanced roles, missions, and capabilities and closer defense cooperation with the United States and other allies and partners, as outlined in these new documents,” Blinken said.
The government says developing the capability to launch strikes at enemy targets is a response to the recognition that ballistic missile defense alone is insufficient in the new security environment.
It’s also a radical departure from Japan’s strictly defensive policy arising from the 1947 constitution. The document renounces the use of force to settle international disputes, a safeguard included by the drafters because of Japan’s history of aggression through the first half of the 20th century.
China’s chilly response to the announcement centered on its portrayal of China as the number one challenge, and foreign ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin accused Japan of “groundlessly discrediting China.”
“Historically, Japan has stepped into the wrong path of militarism, conducted aggression and expansion, and committed crimes against humanity, bringing serious disasters to the region and the world,” said the Chinese Embassy in Tokyo.
Japan should “learn lessons from the past” and “not use the so-called China threat to cover its own military expansion.”
Japan’s previous national security strategy, unveiled in 2013, also cited Chinese actions in the region, such as efforts to change the status quo in the South and East China Seas “by coercion,” but portrayed them as “an issue of concern.”
Despite the relatively mild language, Beijing was unhappy at the time that it accompanied a five-percent increase in Japanese defense spending over the next five years (even as China itself was ramping up its own defense spending, by 10.7 percent that same year alone).
This time, Japan’s plan is to double its military spending as a proportion of national gross domestic product.
Japan has maintained a one percent of GDP limit on defense expenditure for six decades, but the planned shift would mirror the NATO target of devoting two percent of GDP to military spending by 2024. (Only nine of the 30 NATO allies have achieved the goal so far.)
Doubling defense spending as a percentage of GDP would mean that, over time, Japan would have the third-largest military budget in the world, after the United States and China.
“China has done nothing to warrant such a reaction from Japan,” the Chinese Communist Party paper China Daily said in an editorial on Sunday.
“If there is any potential threat to peace in East Asia, it should be the revival of the militarist mentality in the minds of Japanese politicians,” it said.
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