Tokyo is prepared to exceed the 1 per cent of GDP normally spent on defence as it targets a “radically different” approach to counter Beijing’s growing military capacity, according to Japan’s defence minister. Nobuo Kishi warned the gap between Japan and China’s military was “growing by the year”, in an interview with the Nikkei newspaper on Wednesday. “The security environment surrounding Japan is changing rapidly, with heightened uncertainty. We will properly allocate the funding we need to protect our nation,” he told the newspaper, in statements viewed by analysts as a signal both to Japan’s allies and its rivals. Japan steps up defence capabilities in space, cyberspace amid new threats Kishi added that Tokyo needed to respond to the changing security situation in the Indo-Pacific region, singling out the Nansei Islands – which stretch from the southern tip of the Japanese mainland to just north of Taiwan – as a main area of concern. The defence minister’s remarks came a month after Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga said at his Washington meeting with US President Joe Biden that Tokyo would boost its defence capabilities and role in the broader security of the region. Tokyo’s top concern involves Beijing’s claims to the uninhabited Diaoyu Islands in the East China Sea. Japan administers the islands, which it refers to as the Senkakus, but China has been increasingly challenging that control by repeatedly sending coastguard vessels and aircraft into territorial waters around the archipelago. The Diaoyus, 170km north of Taiwan, are also claimed by the self-governing island. Tokyo has deployed land, sea and air capabilities to southern Japan in a show of force that includes a newly formed Amphibious Rapid Deployment Brigade, based on the US Marine Corps and tasked with beach landings to recapture outlying islands that have been invaded. Kishi indicated there would be other defence measures. “There should not be any areas not covered by the Self-Defence Forces. It is very important to deploy units to island areas,” he said. Japan will create a third amphibious brigade, also based in Sasebo, Nagasaki Prefecture, and also boost investment in emerging security areas, primarily space, the cyber realm and electromagnetic warfare, which includes communications and data collection and analysis. Japan to use F-35B fighter jets from 2024 to defend East China Sea islands The defence budget for the 2021 financial year came to 5.34 trillion yen (US$48.92 billion), up 0.5 per cent from the previous year. The 5.31 trillion yen (US$48.65 billion) allocated to defence in 2020 came to 0.997 per cent of GDP, and the 2021 figure is expected to break through the 1 per cent barrier, in part due to the economic contraction brought about by the coronavirus pandemic. An analyst with the National Institute of Defence Studies, affiliated with the Defence Ministry in Tokyo, said while the increased spending was needed to keep pace with Japan’s rivals, it could trigger unease among a public that is having to tighten its belt due to the economic fallout from the coronavirus pandemic. “Japan should make every effort to enhance its defences in all domains,” said the official, who requested anonymity. “Space, cyber and electromagnetic are becoming more important, but at the same time there is a need to spend in the more traditional domains of the air, ground and maritime forces. “Japan needs to spend more on its defence capabilities because of the growing strengths of China,” he said. “ But it will still be difficult for some to accept that spending has gone through the 1 per cent of GDP level while we have serious domestic economic and political problems.” The message is that Japan is going to step up and that hostile moves will be met with strong opposition Jeff Kingston, analyst Jeff Kingston, director of Asian Studies at the Tokyo campus of Temple University, noted however that the 1 per cent figure was not set by law and there were no limits on defence spending. The number also varied depending on what was included in the budget, he added. Some calculations, for example, keep the figure below 1 per cent by excluding payments to the US in host-nation support for military personnel stationed in Japan, Kingston said. “Kishi is sending a message both to Washington and Beijing,” he said. “The US has said it wants Japan to share more of the burden associated with the policy of a ‘free and open Indo-Pacific’ and that Tokyo can bring more to the table, so Kishi is signalling that Japan is working on that. “To China, which has had double-digit growth in defence spending for the last couple of decades, the message is that Japan is going to step up and that hostile moves will be met with strong opposition,” he said. There has been no response as yet to Kishi’s comments in Chinese state-run media, although the NIDS analyst said a reaction was “inevitable”. “I expect Beijing will accuse Japan of ‘provoking and destabilising the situation’ around the Nansei Islands and in the East China Sea ,” he said. “But the PLA could also use it as an opportunity to increase their activities and presence in waters around the Senkaku Islands, pressuring Japan to respond. “China is becoming increasingly concerned about the growing international cooperation against their efforts to change the military balance in the region,” he said. “It is significant that it’s no longer just the US and Japan working together here, but Australia , India and even military units from as far away as Europe .” Maritime and ground units of the French military recently took part in exercises in Japan with US and Japanese forces, while a German warship and a UK Royal Navy fleet are due to carry out similar manoeuvres later this year.