By Nobira Yuichi
At an Upper House Budget Committee meeting held on May 31, Prime Minister Kishida Fumio clarified that the remark he made at the recent Japan-U.S. summit that he was “determined to secure substantial increase of [Japan’s] defense budget” was not an “official commitment made to the U.S.” On the word “substantial” (soto-na in Japanese), the Prime Minister noted that the term means “we will secure a budget commensurate with efforts to fundamentally enhance our defense capabilities in a steady fashion” and asserted that “substantial” does not mean “significantly great” (kanari-no in Japanese) but means “commensurate” (miau-dake-no in Japanese).
The Japan-U.S. joint statement announced at the Kishida-Biden summit held on May 23 says: “Prime Minister Kishida stated his determination to fundamentally reinforce Japan’s defense capabilities and secure substantial increase of its defense budget needed to effect it. President Biden strongly supported Prime Minister Kishida’s determination.”
At the May 31 Diet committee meeting, Koike Akira of the Japanese Communist Party (JCP) asked Kishida, “This is an official commitment made to the U.S., isn’t it?” To this, Kishida responded, “Defense spending is what we decide on independently. This is not an official commitment in any way.” Koike continued, “But you were not talking to yourself when you were with U.S. President [Joe] Biden, were you?” Kishida answered: “The word ‘commitment’ carries the implication that ‘Japan was asked by the U.S. to do something against its will.’ That’s why I chose to deny it.”
Regarding the term “substantial increase,” Koike referred to a Liberal Democratic Party proposal to seek the allocation of 2% or more of the gross domestic product (GDP) to defense spending, and he asked Kishida about specifics on this wording. Kishida stopped short of offering a concrete answer and simply noted that he “did not discuss any numbers, and we must move forward with discussions on the subject to fulfill the responsibility of protecting the people’s lives and lifestyles.”
Koike further pointed out that the word “substantial,” which can be read to mean “significantly great,” was the translation used for the Japanese word “soto-na” in the joint statement. He questioned: “If “substantial increase” [is intended to mean ‘significantly great’], there are only three options to finance it: spending cuts in social welfare, tax increases, and issuance of government bonds.”
In response, Kishida answered: “The word ‘substantial’ here means to set aside a budget “commensurate” with fundamentally enhancing defense capabilities. That is the sense in which ‘substantial’ is being used. Until it is decided in concrete terms how we can reinforce our defense capabilities, I cannot talk about a budget commensurate with it.”