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Japan unveils biggest military build-up to counter growing threats from rivals

Japan on Friday unveiled a new national security plan that signals the country’s biggest military buildup since World War II, doubling defense spending and veering from its pacifist constitution in the face of growing threats from regional rivals.

In an early evening televised address in Tokyo, Prime Minister Fumio Kishida said the government had approved three security documents — the National Security Strategy (NSS), the National Defense Strategy, and the Defense Force Development Plan — to bolster Japan’s defense capabilities amid an increasingly unstable security environment.

The new measures include provisions that would enable Japan to possess “counterstrike capabilities,” the ability to directly attack another country’s territory in the event of an emergency and under specific circumstances, Kishida said

The Prime Minister earlier in December instructed his defense and finance ministers to secure funds to increase Japan’s defense budget to 2% of current GDP in 2027, according to Defense Minister Yasukazu Hamada.

In taking the new defense initiatives, Japan is bending the interpretation of its post-World War II constitution, which put constraints on its Self-Defense Forces in that they can only be used for what their name implies, defending the Japanese homeland.

But Tokyo is facing its most hostile security situation in decades.

With its defense overhaul, Japan describes one of those rivals — China — as its “biggest strategic challenge,” public broadcaster NHK reported Friday.

Long-time rival China has been been growing its naval and air forces in areas near Japan while claiming the Senkaku Islands, an uninhabited Japanese-controlled chain in the Sea of Japan, also known as the East Sea, as its sovereign territory.

Chinese ships have been making frequent forays near the islands, which it calls the Diaoyus, while Japan scrambles warplanes almost daily in response to Chinese planes nearing its airspace.

Meanwhile, China has been upping its military pressure on Taiwan, the self-ruled island whose security Japanese leaders have said is vital to the security of Japan itself. In August, that pressure included Beijing firing five missiles that landed in Japan’s exclusive economic zone near Taiwan in response to the visit of US House Speaker Nancy Pelosi to Taipei.

From its west, Japan has been watching the buildup of North Korea’s missile arsenal. Pyongyang has tested missiles on 34 occasions this year, including firing one over Japan in October for the first time in five years, an act Kishida called “outrageous.”

To the north of Japan, a Russian buildup on islands there since the beginning of the war in Ukraine and bellicose rhetoric from Moscow has only added to the apprehension in Tokyo that it may need to defend its territories from several threats at once.

While Japan is regarded to have one of the world’s most modern and powerful militaries, its weaponry has been designed to strike enemies near its islands. But the new defense strategy, which public broadcaster NHK said earlier this week would give Tokyo arms like US-made Tomahawk missiles, that could strike the bases from which possible foes like China, North Korea or Russia could strike Japanese territory.

According to Self-Defense Force officials, Japan’s current missile defense systems can only engage an incoming target once it comes within range of about 31 miles (50 kilometers). But China, for instance, has missiles that can be launched from a wide range of warplanes from distances as far away as 186 miles (300 kilometers).

Tokyo says any new long-range weapons it may acquire would not be “first strike” weapons, but would only be used if a foe first attacked Japan


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