China’s missile launch into waters less than 160 km (100 miles) from Japan, in a show of force Beijing is making after Nancy Pelosi’s visit to Taiwan, could bolster public support for a military buildup aimed at defending against its neighbor. great of Japan.
China fired five ballistic missiles into the sea at the western end of the Okinawa island chain on Thursday as part of military exercises, two days after US House Speaker Nancy Pelosi became the highest-ranking US official to visit Taiwan. self-governing in 25 years.
“This clearly shows that if something happened to Taiwan, it will have an impact on us,” said Taro Kono, a senior Japanese Liberal Democratic Party lawmaker and former foreign and defense minister.
“This period is clearly back in Japan,” he added, when asked if the public would support higher military spending.
Defense is a divisive issue in Japan, which, as a legacy of World War II, has a pacifist constitution and great public wariness about involvement in US-led wars.
The increase in the defense budget followed China’s unprecedented missile launches into Japan’s exclusive economic zone.
The government of Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida is preparing to publish a request for a significant increase in the defense budget this month.
The spending plan will be followed by a review of defense policy at the end of the year, which is expected to include a call to buy longer-range munitions.
Concern about Chinese military activity in the seas and skies around Taiwan and Japan has grown since Russia invaded Ukraine in February. Japan worries that this could set a precedent in China’s eyes for the use of force against Taiwan, and predicts that the US would not intervene to stop Beijing.
“The military balance has changed a lot around Taiwan,” said retired Admiral Katsutoshi Kawano, who served as chief of the Joint Chiefs of Staff of Japan’s Self-Defense Forces for five years until 2019.
“I hope that the discussions on the defense budget will become serious”, he said.
Ready to fight
In a public statement before legislative elections last month, Japanese Prime Minister Kishida’s party pledged to double defense spending to 2% of gross domestic product over the next five years.
That would make Japan the world’s third-biggest military spender, behind the United States and China, according to a 2021 publication ranking countries’ defense budgets published by the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute.
Kishida, who condemned China’s action, has promised to increase the defense budget “substantially”, but has not yet given details on when and by how much it will increase.
He also has not indicated whether Japan’s militarization will be paid for by cuts in public spending or through borrowing or a combination of the two.
China’s missiles have given Kishida a chance to clarify his position, especially given questions about how far the United States would go in a crisis, said Takashi Kawakami, a professor at Japan’s Takushoku University in Tokyo.
“Japan must clearly show that it is ready to fight,” he said.
During the 1996 Taiwan crisis, China conducted missile exercises to intimidate the island. But China’s much weaker military was unable to prevent the US from sending warships, including a US aircraft carrier strike group, through the Taiwan Strait that separates China from the island.
China has increased defense spending some 20-fold since then and has hundreds of ballistic missiles capable of hitting targets – including ships – hundreds or thousands of kilometers away with much greater accuracy.
The aircraft carrier USS Ronald Reagan was the only carrier patrolling the Philippine Sea in the Western Pacific on Thursday for “scheduled operations.”
Bonji Ohara, a senior fellow at the Sasakava Peace Foundation and a former military attache at the Japanese Embassy in China, said it was a political decision by the United States to keep its military presence low.
“It is a reality that China is a major military power now. If it was the same as in 1996, America could have stopped it,” he said, referring to Chinese military exercises this week.Reuters/
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