Trump claim that Abe plans massive purchases of U.S. defense equipment walked back by Tokyo

JIJI

The government has downplayed U.S. President Donald Trump’s abrupt request for Japan to make large purchases of U.S.-made military gear.

“So one of the things, I think, that’s very important is that the prime minister of Japan is going to be purchasing massive amounts of military equipment, as he should,” Trump said at a joint news conference with Prime Minister Shinzo Abe after their meeting in Tokyo on Monday.

Citing the F-35 stealth fighter and missiles of “many different kinds,” the president stressed that Japan’s purchases of U.S. defense equipment will lead to “a lot of jobs for us (the United States) and a lot of safety for Japan.”

Abe agreed that his country “will be buying more from the United States.” On Tuesday, Trump tweeted, “Massive military & energy orders happening+++!”

But Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga adjusted the course of the government’s policy on the issue on Tuesday.

“We’re acquiring equipment for the Self-Defense Forces, as planned in the National Defense Program Guidelines and the Medium-Term Defense Program,” the top government spokesman stressed at a news conference.

The current medium-term program, for fiscal 2014-2018, calls for acquiring the Osprey tilt-rotor transport aircraft for about ¥11.4 billion a unit, the F-35 stealth fighter for ¥14.7 billion and the Aegis Ashore missile defense system for ¥80 billion, as well as other equipment.

Given that costs for the planned purchases are already high, the government is cautious about additional acquisitions, although it recognizes a need to strengthen the country’s missile defense capabilities amid the growing threat of North Korean missiles.

“We’ll proceed with the existing plan, without worrying about the president’s remarks,” a senior Defense Ministry official said.

Any boost to the nation’s defense spending is expected to provoke a backlash from opposition parties.

There are also other concerns about the acquisition of U.S. defense equipment. Japan’s domestic defense industry could face difficulties maintaining and improving its technological capabilities if orders from the government decrease.