Japan PM determined to ‘drastically strengthen’ defence capabilities
After winning an overwhelming victory in Sunday’s upper house election, Prime Minister Fumio Kishida now faces the two difficult challenges of “drastically strengthening” the country’s defence capabilities and addressing rising prices.
Resolving crises in emergencies requires the politics of “decisions and execution” – which Kishida himself promised as a Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) election pledge – rather than the “careful driving” approach he has taken so far.
“We have a mountain of really big issues. Each of them is quite important and I will stake my political life on efforts to tackle them,” Kishida told a press conference on Monday, in a show of strong determination.
Kishida’s leadership will be tested on the issue of reinforcing defence capabilities, discussion of which had been led by former Prime Minister Shinzo Abe before his assassination. In the election campaign, the LDP promised to increase Japan’s defence budget to the necessary level within the next five years, taking the example of Nato, whose member states must spend at least 2 per cent of their GDP on defence each year.
Before the election, Kishida was cautious on the issue, saying, “I don’t think we should start with numbers.” However, he emphasised on Sunday that he would enhance Japan’s defence capabilities with the 2 per cent figure in mind. “As for what numerical goals we will set this year, we have to make efforts to unveil them as quickly as possible,” Kishida added.
By the end of this year, the government will revise three key documents: the National Security Strategy, the National Defence Programme Guidelines and the Mid-term Defence Programme. Along with those revisions, the government is expected to decide on a broad framework of budget increases and defence equipment outlays for the next five years, even though it will be difficult to make arrangements on specific issues.
Japan’s total defence spending for the fiscal 2022 budget is ¥5.4 trillion (1.3 trillion baht), or 0.96 per cent of GDP. Given that 2 per cent of current GDP would amount to about ¥11 trillion, discussing how to secure funding for such spending is unavoidable. Abe proposed issuing additional government bonds to fund the spending, while the LDP’s coalition partner Komeito is cautious about the proposal. Potential funding measures other than the issuance of government bonds are increasing taxes or cutting other spending, such as social security, but both of those options will inevitably trigger opposition from the public.
Including the “counterattack” capabilities that the government is considering possessing, deciding which areas should be given budget priority is also a difficult issue, because it is necessary not only to enhance fighter jets, drones, ships and other equipment but also to address issues such as shortages of live ammunition and renovating Self-Defence Forces facilities.
Addressing rising prices is another urgent issue that requires drastic measures going beyond expectations of administrative institutions to be taken under Kishida’s leadership, according to a close aide.
Kishida will hold a meeting of a response headquarters that he chairs this week to discuss how to use about ¥5.5 trillion in reserve funds. However, it is unclear whether the government can propose measures that will achieve sufficient results to ease dissatisfaction among the public.
Asked at the press conference why people are dissatisfied with government measures, Kishida said: “Prices are increasing, so it is natural that people do not say the government measures are satisfactory.”
He added, “Since prices continue to rise, sustaining pay increases is essential.” But there is no clear road map to achieve pay rises that keep ahead of rising prices.
On Covid-19, the United States and many European countries are now imposing few restrictions on people’s activities despite cases increasing. Japan’s PM is “taking a careful approach to normal times”. Forcing restaurants to shorten their business hours or impose other restrictions could further affect the economy, the government says, though border restrictions for tourists are still in place.
The Japan News
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