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Japan finally set to break sacrosanct 1% GDP cap on defense spending

An assault amphibious vehicle of Japan's Amphibious Rapid Deployment Brigade prepares to land during an exercise in August 2020.
by WorldTribune Staff, May 21, 2021

Following Japan's surrender in World War II and its occupation, headed by the "blue-eyed shogun: Gen. Douglas MacArthur, it adopted a "Peace Constitution" and has strictly limited defense spending since to less than 1 percent of its GDP.

That's about to change. Citing China's increased capabilities in new areas of warfare such as space, cyber and electromagnetics, Japan's defense minister said the nation will scrap its 1 percent of GDP cap on defense spending.

“We must increase our defense capabilities at a radically different pace than in the past,” Defense Minister Nobuo Kishi told Nikkei Asia in a May 19 interview.

"We will properly allocate the funding we need to protect our nation" without considering outlays in relation to GDP, Kishi said.

Japan's defense spending decision comes amid repeated incursions by China into the waters around the Japan-administered Senkaku Islands, which China claims and calls the Diaoyu. The East China Sea islands sit just 170 kilometers from Taiwan and could quickly be engulfed in a Taiwan Strait conflict.

The military balance between Japan and China has "leaned heavily toward China in recent years, and the gap has been growing by the year," Kishi said.

President Donald Trump had urged allies, including Tokyo, to spend at least 2 percent of GDP on defense.

Kishi mentioned strengthening defense capabilities on the Nansei Islands.

The Nansei Island chain stretches from the southernmost tip of Kyushu to the north of Taiwan and consists of small islands such as Osumi, Tokara, Amami, Okinawa, Miyako and Yaeyama. Last month, the Chinese aircraft carrier Liaoning and five escort vessels passed through the Miyako Strait, a 250 kilometer-wide waterway between Okinawa and Miyako, before heading south to Taiwan.

The islands are seen as crucial in the defense of the Senkakus.

"There should not be any areas not covered by the Self-Defense Forces," Kishi said. "It is very important to deploy units to the island areas."

New debate is also stirring over Article 9 of Japan's constitution, which prohibits Japan’s armed forces from going overseas, much less fighting a foreign war.

Related: Shinzo Abe: Dare he say, ‘Make Japan great again’?, December 11, 2019

"Japan has long since abandoned adherence to Article 9 in the strictest sense. Japanese Self-Defense forces, air, ground, and naval, comprising nearly 250,000 troops, now make up one of the world’s strongest, best equipped military establishments," columnist Donald Kirk noted.

Former Primer Minister Shinzo Abe favored reinterpreting Article 9 "so Japanese forces can indeed go beyond their home territory in the interests of defense," Kirk wrote.

Polls show that a significant majority of Japanese do not want to revise Article 9 at all.

In the Nikkei Asia interview, Kishi said the Tokyo government continues to discuss whether it should develop the capability to strike enemy bases in response to an imminent missile launch. "There's an awareness that just improving our interception capabilities may not really be enough to protect the public," he said.

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