Prime Minister Fumio Kishida said on Monday that Japan face the harshest security environment in the region since the end of World War II and vowed to push for a military buildup under a recently adopted security strategy, as well as address the rapid decline in births so the country can sustain national strength.
Kishida’s government adopted key security and defense reforms in December, including a counter-strike capability that breaks with the country’s postwar exclusively self-defense principle.
Japan says current deployment of missile interceptors is insufficient to fend off the rapid advance of weapons in China and North Korea.
In his opening speech at this year’s parliamentary session, Kishida said active diplomacy should be prioritized, but it requires “defense power to back it up.” He said Japan’s new security strategy is based on a realistic simulation “as we face the most severe and complex security environment since the end of World War II and the question of whether we can protect people’s lives in an emergency.” ”.
The strategy seeks to keep China’s increasingly assertive territorial ambitions in check, but it is also a sensitive issue for many Asian countries that fell victim to wartime Japanese aggression. Kishida said it is a “drastic change” of Japan’s security policy, but it still remains within the constraints of its anti-war constitution and international law.
“I make it clear that there will not be the slightest change in Japan’s principles of non-nuclear and self-defense and our steps as a peace-loving country.”Kishida said.
This month, Kishida toured five countries, including Washington, to explain Japan’s new defense plan and further develop defense ties with its ally the United States.
While the security strategy said China presents “an unprecedented and greatest strategic challenge” to the peace and security of Japan and the region, Kishida said he hoped to maintain dialogue with China, including with its leader Xi Jinping, to establish “constructive and stable relationships”.
Japan plans to nearly double its defense budget within five years 43 trillion yen (332 billion USD) and enhance cyberspace and intelligence capabilities. While three-quarters of an annual increase in the defense budget can be squeezed through tax and spending reforms, the rest must come from a potential tax increase, and Kishida has already faced increasing criticism from opposition lawmakers and even from his ruling party.
Kishida is also facing a critical issue of population growth.
“We cannot waste time on child policies and parenting support”said. “We must establish an economic society that puts children first and change 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 and aging population has huge implications for the economy and national security.
“Japan is at the limit of being able to continue functioning as a society“said the prime minister. The chief executive promised to “focus attention on policies related to children and childhood as an issue that cannot wait and cannot be postponed.”
Kishida pledged to bolster financial support for families with children, including more scholarships, saying he would compile a set of measures of “different dimensions.”
The birth rate is declining in many developed nations, but in Japan the issue is particularly serious because it is the country with the second highest proportion of people over 65 in the world, after Monaco, according to World Bank data.
So far, efforts to encourage people to have more babies have had limited impact despite subsidies for pregnancy, childbirth and childcare. Some experts say government subsidies still tend to focus on parents who already have children rather than removing the pitfalls that discourage young people from starting families.
Opposition lawmakers questioned how the Kishida government will handle heavy spending on key policies.
Katsuya Okada, secretary general of Japan’s main opposition Constitutional Democratic Party, said it was “wrong” that only defense spending has been predetermined, even as huge spending is expected for measures to tackle low birthrates and care for the elderly.
“It is important to think about an adequate balance of the economy in the medium and long term. There needs to be a proper discussion about how much should be spent for what.”said.
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 in making society more inclusive of children, women and minorities.
Birth rates are slowing in many countries, including Japan’s neighboring countries, due to various factors such as the high cost of living, the entry of women into the labor force, and people’s decision to have children later.
According to official data, last year China’s population shrank by 2022 for the first time in six decades.
(with information from AP and AFP)
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