Japan's prime minister Fumio Kishida has laid out bold new plans to drastically ramp up the country's defense posture, including for the first time since its defeat in WWII acquiring strike capabilities against foreign enemy bases.
He unveiled in a wide-ranging speech before the National Diet (or national legislature) that a fundamental shift in defense strategy will be implemented within the next 12 months, following in November a record high national defense budget of a total more than 6 trillion yen being formally approved (the equivalent of $53 billion).
"In order to safeguard the people’s lives and livelihoods, we will examine all the options, including the capability to attack enemy bases... and fundamentally strengthen our defense posture with a sense of speed," PM Kishida said.
Ironically Japan's leaders have long carefully avoided even references to the word "military" to describe its national defense forces. That looks to change given growing concerns over China (including ongoing island and territorial water disputes), as well as Russia's assertiveness over the Northern Territories/Kuril islands (and recent missile deployments there) - not to mention recent missile testing by North Korea.
International reports commonly estimate that Japan has built an arsenal of almost 1,000 warplanes, and even dozens of submarines and destroyers. Additionally, often its coast guard acts as a forward deployed force in fishing or island disputes with China.
This week Japan is showcasing its forces and ability to "stand up to China" in the region by launching a nine day long military exercise, described as follows:
Just across the sea from rival Russia, Japan opened up its humbly named Self Defense Force's firing exercises to the media in a display of public firepower that coincides with a recent escalation of Chinese and Russian military moves around Japanese territory.
Russian and Chinese efforts to encircle Japan may prove counterproductive https://t.co/MtkwO0yn5R— Geopolitics (@PhilipCMead) December 6, 2021
Joint #Russia-#Chinese air/navy patrols around #Japan’s archipelago are more frequent, a reaction to Tokyo’s growing military partnerships and combat drills with #NATO countries pic.twitter.com/qxfLdG9Xpy
The timing of both the PM's speech and launch of the new drills is interesting given the past months have seen Tokyo go from consciously staying out of the Taiwan independence debate and rhetoric, to more vocally joining Washington's side - which has included hosting US warships and small-scale joint drills. This has of course been met with condemnation from Beijing.
Further it must be recalled that in October a grouping of Chinese and Russian warships provocatively traversed narrow passageways near Japan, and ultimately took an encircling route around the large island-nation. And The Associated Press recounts that "In fiscal year 2020 through March, Japanese fighters scrambled more than 700 times — two-thirds against Chinese warplanes, with the remainder mostly against Russians — the Defense Ministry said." Thus Kishida's speech appeared to serve as a warning and bit of muscle-flexing in its own right, signaling that Tokyo is ready to respond to perceived aggression by expanding toward becoming a serious military presence in the region.