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Abe tells Mattis Japan will increase defense spending

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe told U.S. Defense Secretary James Mattis that Japan will expedite efforts to strengthen its defense capabilities, government officials said.


In a meeting with Mattis at the Defense Ministry on Saturday, Japanese Defense Minister Tomomi Inada told her U.S. counterpart that Japan plans to “reinforce our defense strength in terms of both quality and quantity, and expand the role we are capable of fulfilling.”


Abe conveyed a similar message to Mattis the previous day, the officials said.


According to the officials, Japan is to increase its defense spending in the medium and long terms in response to increasing saber-rattling in China and North Korea.


Japan is also mulling the possibility of jointly working with the U.S. to develop arms, including fighter jets.


Mattis told Abe and Inada that both Japan and the U.S. must reinforce their defense capabilities.


Both sides agreed the Japan-U.S. alliance remains important in maintaining peace and stability in the Asia-Pacific region, and that the two countries should aim to boost their deterrence and response capabilities.


The parties also agreed that North Korea’s nuclear arsenal and missiles are a serious security threat and that China’s increasing military presence in the East and South China seas is also a concern.


Plans are for the Japanese government to start preparing a medium-term defense strategy covering the period from 2019 to 2023. Work on the strategy could begin in the second half of this year.


One focus will be the defense budget’s annual growth rate, excluding spending related to reforms of U.S. military bases. The rate has averaged 0.8% in recent years.


Specific defense equipment being considered includes a new anti-missile system, due to the progress North Korea is making with its ballistic missiles.


Any Japan-U.S. joint development could focus on stealth fighters and drones.


U.S. President Donald Trump has accused allies of freeloading under the U.S. security umbrella. Before being inaugurated, he indicated he may withdraw U.S. troops from Japan unless Tokyo significantly increases its share of the cost to maintain bases in the country.


However, in Saturday’s joint press conference with Inada, Mattis said: “I believe that Japan has been a model of cost-sharing, of burden-sharing. … We can point to our Japanese-American cost-sharing approach as an example for other nations to follow.”

Inada said the costs have been “appropriately shared based on the agreement between the two countries.”

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