Japan has decided to increase defense spending for the first time in eleven years, a move widely perceived to be in response to the growing military power of the People’s Republic of China (PRC) and the divisive territorial dispute over the sovereignty of the Senkaku/Diaoyutai Islands that have strained relations between the two nations throughout the past several years.
Shinzo Abe, newly-installed prime minister, is known to support a more hawkish foreign policy stance than his predecessors and has vowed to pursue a more aggressive strategy in asserting Japan’s claims to the Senkaku Islands and the Takeshima Islands. Chinese incursions into the waters surrounding the Senkaku Island group have escalated in recent months provoking repeated diplomatic protests from Tokyo, protests that are routinely rejected by Beijing.
Republic of Korea (ROK) claims to the Dokdo/Takeshima Islands, also known as the Liancourt Rocks, have also aggravated relations between Seoul and Tokyo. Although the ROK has physical possession of the islands and claims the islands as her own, Japan continues to stand behind its claims of sovereignty over the islands.
For over a decade, Japanese politicians have managed to keep defense spending flat while continuing to keep the small Japanese Self-Defense Force (JSDF) well-equipped with modern weapons of US origin. Unfortunately, the JSDF has no real-life combat experience and very limited training in offensive operations. Combat training hasn’t been a priority concern since the end of World War Two.
Initial indications are that the increase being requested is valued at approximately $1.15 billion. This amount represents barely two percent of the total defense budget and is seen by many to be little more than a symbolic gesture to ease public concerns resulting from increasingly aggressive Chinese and South Korean incursions into the island groups claimed by Japan.
Unnamed Japanese sources claim the additional money will be used to fund ongoing research into development of a new radar system and to cover anticipated increases in fuel and maintenance costs for surveillance/reconnaissance aircraft resulting from an increase in operational tempo.
While the $1.15 billion increase is minimal, Japan’s defense expenditures average less than one percent of the nation’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP) allowing for a significant future margin of growth should the need arise. Defense spending has been one constant throughout a decades-long downturn in economic growth and a dwindling domestic consumer market.
News of the spending increase was announced just when the Japanese Foreign Ministry delivered a declaration to the Chinese ambassador protesting the appearance of Chinese naval vessels in the waters surrounding the Senkaku/Diaoyutai Islands. Beijing was quick to reject the Japanese protest and later expressed extreme displeasure with the announcement of the defense spending increase. Beijing refers to the Chinese air and maritime patrols in the disputed region “normal” as they still claim the region as their own.