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Editorial: Trump’s sales pitch for defense equipment won’t convince Japanese public

U.S. President Donald Trump, who visited Japan earlier this month, expressed hope during a joint news conference with Prime Minister Shinzo Abe in Tokyo that Japan will buy “massive amounts of military equipment” from the United States.

The U.S. government subsequently released a statement saying that President Trump “underscored his commitment to enhancing Japan’s defense capabilities” and “to making available advanced defensive equipment” to address challenges from North Korea.


A sales pitch by a national leader for defense equipment is nothing new. However, Trump’s marketing appears to be spurring a regional arms race.


Trump said that U.S. sales of defense equipment to Japan and other countries will create jobs in his country. He may be trying to convince the American people that such sales will lead to job growth in the defense industry.


Japan purchasing defense equipment from its ally the United States would be beneficial in terms of interoperability. At the same time, if Japan were to recklessly buy U.S.-made defense equipment as if to follow Trump’s “America First” policy, it would not gain support from the Japanese public.


Japan’s Defense Ministry has purchased defense equipment in line with National Defense Program Guidelines, which show the scale of Japan’s defense capabilities from a long-term perspective, and the Mid-Term Defense Program, a five-year plan on the procurement of defense items.


The government has underscored the need to expand Japan’s defense capabilities in terms of both quality and quantity as the security environment surrounding Japan, such as the threat posed by North Korea and China’s rise, is becoming increasingly severe. Japan has increased its defense spending for five consecutive years since Abe returned to power in late 2012.


Tokyo has signed a contract with Washington on its purchase of defense equipment, including F-35 fighters, Osprey transport aircraft and a missile defense system.


Japan buys such high-performance, highly confidential advanced defense equipment from the United States through Foreign Military Sales (FMS) agreements signed between the two governments. The U.S. plays a leading role in setting the prices and there is reportedly little room for price negotiations.


Japan’s purchase of defense equipment from the United States has been growing, and the government allocated 359.6 billion yen for such purchases through FMS this fiscal year, 2.6 times the amount five years ago.


Critics have pointed out that there are numerous problems involving U.S.-led FMS. A higher price has been set for the F-35 on condition that Japanese-made parts be used for the aircraft. However, the Board of Audit of Japan has pointed out that Japanese parts are not used in some F-35s, and urged the government to negotiate with Washington to reduce the price of the aircraft.


If Japan is to rely excessively on made-in-U.S. products, it would make it difficult for Japanese companies to develop defense equipment, leading to a decrease in contracts these firms receive. It is necessary to strike a balance between American and domestic products.


Amid financial difficulties, the Japanese government should negotiate with the U.S. government to purchase defense equipment efficiently and at fair prices.

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