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Regional engagements, technological advances highlight Japan’s defense accomplishments

Regional engagements, technological advances highlight Japan’s defense accomplishments

Felix Kim

A year that saw Japan tested by challenges ranging from North Korean missile launches to territorial incursions by People’s Republic of China (PRC) vessels also brought significant defense accomplishments, including engagement with regional allies and partners and improved technological capabilities, Japanese Defense Minister Nobuo Kishi said in September 2021.

Kishi outlined the progress made during the first 12 months of his tenure, such as advancing the vision of a Free and Open Indo-Pacific (FOIP) that Japan shares with the United States and other partners and the boosting of defense capacity. “Since taking office as minister in September [2020], I have said that I am sensitive to changes in the world and the times, and always take the lead of 250,000 members nationwide with flexible ideas,” he told reporters.

Visiting with Japan Self-Defense Forces (JSDF) units “from Hokkaido to Okinawa” has been a priority, Kishi said, because it enables him to make effective decisions with input from service members in the field, whether in training or on missions such as disaster response.

Maintaining and strengthening the FOIP doctrine, meanwhile, has been achieved through defense cooperation and exchanges with like-minded countries, such as in-person ministerial meetings with defense officials from nations including the United Kingdom, the U.S. and Vietnam.

The 2+2 meeting with the U.S. in March 2021 highlighted the shared commitments of the two allies, including the defense of Japan and “the rules-based international system,” according to Japan’s Defense Ministry. Concerns were expressed during the meeting regarding the PRC’s recent maritime security law, and objections were raised against Beijing’s unlawful maritime claims and operations in the South China Sea. Both governments voiced opposition to any unilateral action that seeks to undermine Japan’s administration of the Senkaku Islands in the East China Sea.

Kishi met with U.K. Defence Secretary Ben Wallace in July 2021, with the ministers discussing taking the bilateral defense relationship to a “new level” to tackle global challenges and ensure regional peace and stability. They condemned Pyongyang’s missile launches and discussed joint naval engagements, defense industry collaboration and support for the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea, among other topics. (Pictured: United Kingdom Defence Secretary Ben Wallace, left, and Japanese Defense Minister Nobuo Kishi meet in Tokyo in July 2021.)

In early September 2021, Kishi met with his Vietnamese counterpart, Gen. Phan Van Giang, in Hanoi to discuss redefining the nations’ defense cooperation, including through a more proactive contribution to Indo-Pacific stability.

In reviewing his first year in office, Kishi told reporters that advancing Japan’s defense capabilities is a vital area of focus. To contend with emerging threats, the nation must enhance its capacities in evolving domains such as space, cyber and the electromagnetic spectrum. Achieving “technological superiority in the defense field” requires a larger defense budget, he said.

Japan’s Defense Ministry is seeking a 2.6% increase in annual spending, taking the defense budget to a record U.S. $49.93 billion, according to Reuters.

Felix Kim is a FORUM contributor reporting from Seoul, South Korea.