Kishida prioritizes building the poor and reversing a low birth rate

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TOKYO (TBEN) — Prime Minister Fumio Kishida said Monday that Japan is facing the region’s toughest security situation since the end of World War II and also pledged to implement a military buildup over the next five years and beyond under a newly adopted security strategy to to tackle rapidly declining births so that the country can maintain its national strength.

The Kishida government passed major security and defense reforms in December, including a counterattack that marks a break from the country’s post-war principle of self-defense. Japan says its current deployment of missile interceptors is insufficient to defend against rapid arms advances in China and North Korea.

In his policy speech opening this year’s parliamentary session, Kishida said that active diplomacy should be a priority, but that it “requires defense strength to back it up”. He said Japan’s new security strategy is based on a realistic simulation “as we are facing the toughest and most complex security environment since the end of World War II and the question is whether we can protect people’s lives in an emergency .”

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The strategy seeks to rein in China’s increasingly assertive territorial ambitions, but it is also a sensitive issue for many countries in Asia that have been victims of Japanese war aggression. Kishida said it is a “drastic U-turn” of Japan’s security policy, but still remains within the confines of its pacifist constitution and international law.

“I make it clear that there will be no change whatsoever from Japan’s non-nuclear and self-defense principles and our footsteps as a peace-loving country,” Kishida said.

This month, Kishida toured five countries, including Washington, to explain Japan’s new defense plan and further develop defense ties with its ally the United States.

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Japan plans to nearly double its defense budget to 43 trillion yen ($332 billion) within five years and improve cyberspace and intelligence capabilities. While three-quarters of an annual increase in the defense budget could be squeezed out by spending and fiscal reform, the rest should come from a potential tax hike, and Kishida has already faced growing criticism from opposition lawmakers and even his governing party.

Kishida also faces a critical issue of population growth.

“We can’t waste time on children and parenting support policies,” he said. “We need to create a child-first economic society and reverse the birth rate.”

Japan’s population of more than 125 million has been declining for 14 years and is expected to fall to 86.7 million by 2060. A shrinking and aging population has huge implications for the economy and national security.

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Kishida promised to strengthen financial support for families with children, including more grants, and said he would prepare a plan by June.

Japan is the world’s third largest economy, but the cost of living is high and wage growth is slow. The Conservative government has fallen behind in making society more inclusive for children, women and minorities.

So far, efforts to encourage people to have more babies have had little effect, despite payments of pregnancy, childbirth and childcare subsidies. Some experts say government subsidies are still aimed at parents who already have children, rather than addressing difficulties that prevent young people from starting a family.