NEW YORK – Speaking Wednesday at an event in New York hosted by the Hudson Institute, a conservative think tank, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said Japan will be a “proactive contributor to peace” in an interconnected global security environment, and scoffed at being labeled a “right-wing militarist.”
Even as Japan reviews its self-imposed ban on collective self-defense, Abe said defense spending has not increased as much as that of “an immediate neighbor,” apparently referring to China.
“The country has increased its military expenditures, hardly transparent, by more than 10 percent annually for more than 20 years since 1989. And then my government has increased its defense budget only by 0.8 percent,” the prime minister said.
“So call me, if you want, a right-wing militarist,” Abe said.
China is ranked third or fourth in the world by total land area and was not required to adopt a pacifist Constitution.
Reviving the domestic economy, which has been reeling from prolonged deflation, is the top priority, Abe said. His “Abenomics” plan, which has lifted share prices and weakened the yen, is designed to change “the inward-looking mindset” of Japanese people so they become bolder risk takers.
In the United States to attend the U.N. General Assembly, Abe spelled out the security challenges facing Japan and the greater role Tokyo hopes to play on the global stage.
“Japan should not be the weak link in the regional and global security framework where the United States plays a leading role,” Abe said as he expressed his resolve to make Japan a “proactive contributor to peace.”
Concerned about China’s maritime assertiveness and North Korea’s nuclear ambitions, Tokyo has described the security environment as more severe.
Japan’s purchase last September of a major portion of the Senkaku Islands in the East China Sea from a Japanese private owner raised the hackles of Beijing. Despite Abe’s statement that “the door is always open for dialogue,” there have been no summit talks with China in the roughly nine months since he took office.
The prime minister offered two examples of how the government’s current interpretation of the pacifist Constitution curbs the right to exercise collective self-defense.
Self-Defense Forces personnel are barred, he said, from helping foreign troops on the same U.N. peacekeeping operation, even if they are under attack, nor can Japan come to the aid of U.S. warships operating around Japan in international waters if they are attacked from the air.
“Is Japan up to its task in this world where threats see no borders?” Abe said.
A panel reinstated by Abe is scheduled to compile and submit its report by year-end on whether Japan should be allowed to engage in collective self-defense. Abe has said, however, he does not have a time frame for making a final decision.
Abe still faces a hurdle at home: New Komeito, the coalition partner of his Liberal Democratic Party, is reluctant to change the interpretation of the Constitution.