Japan's record-high defense budget reflects military ambition it cannot afford

Zhang Tao

TOKYO, Dec. 24 (Xinhua) -- The Japanese government has approved a record-high defense budget for the fiscal year 2017 with a growing ambition for military expansion although it added to an already heavy financial burden for the country.

The defense budget, rising for the fifth straight year since Abe took office in 2012, hit an unprecedented 5.13 trillion yen (around 44 billion U.S. dollars) for the fiscal year starting April 2017.

The budget is expected to cover a purchasing list including a number of state-of-the-art military equipment for the nation, such as F-35A fighters, V-22 Osprey tilt-rotor aircraft, as well as a new sea-based ballistic missile interceptors, the Standard Missile-3 Block 2A, which has been co-developed by Japan and the United States.

Japan is also speeding up the establishment of new forces, such as a Marine Corps-like amphibious platoon, and is mulling introduction of an expensive U.S. Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) system.

Observers here have pointed out that the huge budget far exceeds the need of a country that is constitutionally bound to have purely defensive armed forces and shows a growing tendency of Japan once again walking the path toward militarism.

The nation, with greater "military forces" as well as the newly enacted security laws which are commonly called "war laws" in Japan, is now able to fight wars abroad, albeit in contradiction to its own constitution.

The constitution prohibits Japan from maintaining any war potential, or from using force as a means of settling international disputes. It also decrees that the Japanese people forever renounce war.

The huge military spending will also incur an excessive financial burden to the nation that is already mired in fiscal woes as its arrears continue to stand as the highest in the industrialized world, amounting to more than twice the size of Japan's GDP.

Japan has optimistically anticipated a tax revenue of 57.71 trillion yen (491 billion U.S. dollars) in fiscal 2017 to cut its debt, though very slightly, to 35.3 percent from 35.6 percent in the fiscal 2016 budget.

Economists here, however, have pointed out that the government's projection is based on an overly optimistic view of the economy with an expected growth of 1.5 percent. However, a 1.0-percent expansion is more realistic, according to median estimates from private-sector economists.

"The truth is Abenomics has failed," said Ogushi Hiroshi, head of the opposition Democratic Party's policy research council, dismissing the budget as lacking sufficient grounds.

The Japanese government has downgraded its tax revenue estimate for fiscal 2016 by 1.74 trillion yen (14.8 billion U.S. dollars), which has to be made up for by compiling supplementary budgets and issuing more bonds.

An urgent need for the Japanese economy now is to tackle the ever-growing threat posed by an increasingly aging population. As a result, the nation has to spend a third of its annual budget on social security costs.

Spending on pensions is expected to reach 11.5 trillion yen (98 billion U.S. dollars), up 1.5 percent compared to the amount allocated by the initial budget of fiscal 2016, and medical expenses will rise by 2 percent to 11.5 trillion yen (98 billion U.S. dollars).

The Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) has warned that Japan's debt pile could jump to 400 percent of its GDP within three decades, if policymakers do not implement structural reforms.

Japan's expansion of military power is also likely to alarm its neighboring countries which, due to Japan's wartime past, have ample reason to closely watch and be vigilant against Tokyo's moves and true intentions.

Given the uncertainties now facing the global economy, a better choice for Japan would be to allay the concerns of its neighbors and develop a cooperative, win-win relationship, especially with China, its close neighbor and largest trading partner.


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