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Editorial: Parties need to offer clear vision for foreign and security policy

One crucial foreign and security policy challenge facing Japan is protecting peace and stability at home and in the region through efforts based on the pacifist principles of the Constitution amid a fierce confrontation between the United States and China.


Parties seeking a public mandate in this Lower House election must offer comprehensive strategies to voters for achieving this policy goal that are supported by clear visions and specific plans.


The security landscape in East Asia is becoming increasingly fraught, with North Korea firing ballistic missiles time and again and China trying to intimidate Taiwan by saber-rattling.


Most parties, including the opposition Constitutional Democratic Party of Japan, which is hoping to take power from the ruling coalition led by the Liberal Democratic Party, share the view that Japan’s alliance with the United States is the linchpin of its foreign and security policy.


But simply following Washington’s lead does not guarantee Japan’s security. As we have seen in Iraq and Afghanistan, the United States sometimes makes serious mistakes in its diplomacy, which is based primarily on military power.


Tokyo needs to become more independent in formulating and implementing its diplomatic strategies so that it can express its opinions candidly to Washington whenever necessary from the viewpoint of the basic principles and values it has upheld in the postwar era.


They include self-restraint in building up its defense capabilities based on the principle of strictly defensive security policy and the principal importance it has placed on international cooperation. 


These principles and values should be applied to Japan’s relationship with China as well. Japan has deep and strong historical and economic ties with this neighbor.


The Japanese government needs to do more to build trust and ease tensions with China through dialogue rather than focus single-mindedly on standing up against the nation’s assertiveness.


A wide range of challenges call for cooperation between Japan and China, including the climate crisis and the COVID-19 pandemic. Tokyo should be committed to diplomatic efforts to persuade Beijing to work under frameworks of multilateral cooperation.


From this point of view, the LDP’s policy platform is worrisome since it indicates the ruling party is tilting toward a military buildup.


One of the party’s campaign promises is significant enhancement of the nation’s defense capabilities through a sharp increase in defense spending.


The LDP apparently has its sights on the defense spending target committed for members of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), which is more than 2 percent of gross national product.


Japan’s defense budget per share of GDP has remained mostly below 1 percent since 1990. Achieving a target of 2 percent of GDP would require doubling the budget.


This is far from a reasonable or realistic target. The figure is not a result of adding up the costs of procuring necessary weapons. In addition, the defense budget must compete for limited funds at a time when massive expenditures for tackling the pandemic and growing social security spending are worsening the nation’s fiscal crunch.


Japan would risk triggering a regional arms race if it shoots for a defense spending target that is not met even by such major NATO members as Germany and Italy.


Another troubling element in the LDP’s defense policy platform is a reference to the need to possess the ability to strike enemy bases, as described as the ability to “block attacks using ballistic missiles and other weapons (aimed at Japan) within the territory of the hostile nation.”


The government has long pledged not to possess this ability while arguing that striking enemy bases is theoretically within the boundary of self-defense if there is no other means to defend the nation.


Yukio Edano, the leader of the CDP, has acknowledged the need to beef up Japan’s missile defenses.


But he has dismissed as unrealistic the proposal to give the Self-Defense Forces the ability to strike enemy targets on its own, citing the difficulty of identifying the locations of targets and the traditional division of security roles between Japan and the United States.


The people’s support and cooperation is vital for defense policy. We urge parties to engage in in-depth debate on defense policy issues to help voters understand and assess their defense policy agenda.


–The Asahi Shimbun, Oct. 21

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