Cost of North Korean threat increases

Japan is to spend a record sum on defence in the face of missile launches by North Korea and a rise in China’s military power.

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe told parliament that defence spending will not fall below one percent of GDP, despite Japan’s continuing economic problems.

The Japanese parliament, or Diet, agreed a record defence budget last year.

The greatest nightmare for Japan is an attack by North Korea. This week, Mr Abe said the threat had entered a new phase after four ballistic missiles were fired into the Sea of Japan.

One of the four missiles landed about 200 km north of the Noto Peninsula in Ishikawa Prefecture, the closest ever such touchdown to Japan’s mainland.

There has been a debate in the Diet, or parliament, about the best way to counter the threat. A former defence minister, Itsunori Onodera, suggested that Japan should develop the capacity to strike directly at North Korea’s missile launch sites.

As the website Japan Today points out, Japan has so far avoided taking the controversial and costly step of acquiring bombers or weapons such as cruise missiles with enough range to strike at other countries, relying instead on its US ally.

Mr Abe and President Donald Trump spoke on the telephone following the North Korean missile launch this week. Meanwhile, Japan’s Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga has welcomed Mr Trump’s plans to increase spending on the US armed forces, claiming this would strengthen the US-Japan alliance and contribute to global stability.

President Trump has asked Congress to raise the US defence budget by about 10%, paid for partly by cuts to the civil service and to foreign aid. Following Mr Trump’s announcement, China said it will increase its military spending by about 7% this year.

Yet the rate of growth in China’s economy is slowing down. Premier Li Keqiang told the National People’s Congress this week that China has lowered its annual economic growth target to around 6.5%.

China is also attempting to calm the tension on the Korean peninsula. It has called on North Korea to stop its missile launches and for South Korea and the United States to stop military drills. Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi said the rising tension is like two “accelerating trains coming toward each other.”

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