National / Politics

Japan's new defense minister Takeshi Iwaya distances himself from earlier LDP weapons proposals

by Reiji Yoshida

Staff Writer

Newly appointed Defense Minister Takeshi Iwaya, who has long been a key defense policymaker of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party, distanced himself Thursday from its earlier proposal that Japan should consider doubling its defense budget and procuring an aircraft carrier and F-35B stealth jets.

Iwaya, a Lower House member elected from Oita Prefecture, was a key member of the LDP’s policy panel on defense affairs before he was appointed defense minister in Tuesday’s Cabinet reshuffle.

“Of course I have participated in the discussions at the party and will certainly take into consideration the proposals from the ruling LDP,” Iwaya said during his first joint interview with media outlets Thursday at the Defense Ministry.

But nothing has been decided yet about what weapons should be procured, Iwaya said, although “the names of some equipment such as a multipurpose mother ship and F-35B have been floated,” he noted.

On June 1 the LDP panel submitted a set of proposals to Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, with the government preparing to revise the National Defense Program Guidelines by the end of the year.

In the report, the panel proposed that Japan boost its defense budget by “taking into consideration the fact that NATO countries are aiming to achieve the goal of making defense budgets worth 2 percent of gross domestic product.”

Now that he’s in the post, however, Iwaya has dismissed the 2 percent target as “not realistic.” Japan’s defense budget for fiscal 2018 was ¥5.19 trillion, or 0.92 percent of GDP.

“It’s not appropriate to use a percentage of GDP as a target figure from the beginning,” Iwaya said during the interview.

The level of the defense budget should be determined through a bottom-up approach of first examining the details of the weapons and units Japan actually needs to defend itself, Iwaya said.

During the interview, Iwaya expressed concerns about the growing military power of China and North Korea’s nuclear and ballistic missile programs.

“China is an important neighboring country for us, but it has increased its high-level defense budget and strengthened its military power while maintaining a certain opaqueness,” Iwaya said.

Chinese government ships have repeatedly intruded into Japan’s territorial waters around the Senkaku Islands in the East China Sea, Iwaya pointed out. The Japan-administered islands are claimed by Beijing and called Diaoyu in China and Tiaoyutai in Taiwan.

China “has kept trying to change the status quo through muscle-flexing,” he said.

As for North Korea, Iwaya said it is significant that North Korean leader Kim Jong Un expressed his intention to denuclearize the Korean Peninsula in a written document.

But despite the ongoing talks with the United States, Pyongyang hasn’t taken any concrete steps to abolish its nuclear and ballistic missile programs — and several hundred missiles capable of hitting Japan are still deployed in the North, Iwaya said. “So we will stay on alert and at the same time keep monitoring situations” including diplomatic efforts to achieve the denuclearization of North Korea, said Iwaya.