Japan under the hawkish Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has decided on 17 December 2013 to increase its spending on defence by about 5% over a period of 5 years (2014 – 2019). This is the biggest increase in defence spending in 22 years, although much of the growth reflects higher import costs due to a weaker yen.
Abe's government also decided to review Japan's ban on weapons exports. This means that Japan could revive struggling defence contractors like Kawasaki Heavy Industries Ltd and Mitsubishi Heavy Industries Ltd.
The decision to increase defence spending to 24.6 trillion yen (239 billion dollar) was in response to China’s ever increasing military budget. Besides, the decision has come at a time when the tensions between Japan and China have soared over the ownership of tiny islands in East China Sea. The tiny islands in Japan are known as Senkaku and in China as Diaoyu.
The increase in defence spending would include an additional purchase of F-35 fighters, made by Lockheed Martin Corp, as well as two more Aegis warships, bringing the total to eight. Japan will also be buying the tilt-rotor Osprey surveillance aircraft, built by Boeing Co and Textron Inc's Bell Helicopter unit, and drones including Northrop Grumman Corp's Global Hawk.
Japan’s defence plan included a five-year military buildup plan and a 10-year defence guideline. According to the plan, there is a need for stronger air and maritime surveillance capabilities. It also improved ability to defend far-flung islands through setting up a marine unit, buying unarmed surveillance drones and putting a unit of E-2C early-warning aircraft on Okinawa Islands in the south.
Japan's 10-year guidelines also mark a shift from its Cold War posture of defending against a Russian attack from the north, toward a potential conflict with China to the west and south.
The defence plan cuts Japan's tanks by 400 to 300 over 10 years, while adding some faster, more maneuverable combat vehicles that could be flown in, say, to retake islands.
The new policy outline also calls for Japan to beef up its ability to defend against ballistic missile attacks, such as from unpredictable neighbor North Korea.
The new defence plan of Japan is an update of the defence posture that was last reviewed in 2010 under the Yoshihiko Noda government. Until 2010, past governments had stretched the limits of a post-war Pacifist Constitution that renounced war and said Japan will never have an army or navy.
Pacifist Constitution of Japan put a limit on the participation of Japan in defence related matters. Under the current interpretation of Japan’s pacifist constitution, Japan’s armed forces are not permitted to fight on behalf of friends or allies unless the Japanese themselves come under direct attack.
Prime Minister Shizo Abe wants to change this policy which constraints Japan from involving in collective self-defence. The change in the stance of Japan should be seen in the light of China’s increasing military strength and assertiveness in the Asia-Pacific region. This has led to increasing calls for Japan to participate in international peace and security operations.
In the two decades through last year, Japan remained the sixth-biggest military spender, just behind Britain, with outlays rising 13 percent in constant 2011 dollar terms, according to the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute. By contrast, China's defence spending exploded more than five-fold, vaulting the country to second place from seventh.
Still, given China's annual double-digit increases in defence spending, Japan will have to rely heavily on cooperation with its close ally, the United States, and others in the region just to maintain the status quo.
Indeed, Abe's national security strategy calls for Japan not only to upgrade its cooperation with the United States but strengthen ties with strategic partners including South Korea, Australia, Southeast Asian countries and India.
Abe and leaders of Southeast Asian countries called at a Tokyo summit in the second week of December 2013 for freedom of the air and sea. This was a veiled reference to China, which has territorial disputes with several countries in the Association of South East Asian Nations.
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