Japan vows bigger security role in Asia-Pacific to tackle threats

Prime Minister Kishida announces plans to boost country’s diplomatic and security role amid Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida has announced plans to boost his country’s diplomatic and security role in the Asia-Pacific to tackle what he described as growing threats in the region amid Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

Kishida said Japan will consider acquiring a preemptive strike capability in response to an increasingly assertive China, North Korea and now Russia – a controversial plan that critics have said will violate Japan’s war-renouncing constitution.

“Ukraine today may be East Asia tomorrow,” Kishida said on Friday in a keynote address at the Shangri-La Dialogue in Singapore, an Asian security forum.

Kishida stressed the importance of cooperation among regional partners, and said he will lay out a “free and open Indo-Pacific plan for peace” by early next year in which Japan will provide development aid, patrol boats, maritime law enforcement capabilities and other assistance to countries in Southeast Asia and the Pacific – where China is attempting to increase its influence – to help them better guard themselves.

Japan has been promoting a “free and open Indo-Pacific” security and economic framework among like-minded democracies as a counter to China’s rise.

Japan will provide such support to at least 20 countries, train at least 800 maritime security personnel, and provide about $2bn in assistance across the next three years, he said.

Kishida has already pledged to bolster Japan’s military capabilities and spending. Japan’s attempt to expand its security role in Asia, where many countries suffered from its World War II aggression, is a sensitive issue.

Kishida assured the audience that Japan’s defence enhancement will be transparent and remain within the scope of its constitution.

He said the security environment in the Asia-Pacific region is deteriorating because of increasing tensions in the East and South China seas and around Taiwan, which China claims as its territory.

Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and its threat to use nuclear weapons has made the path to a world without atomic bombs more challenging, but the trend must be reversed, Kishida said, noting his position as the leader of the only country that has suffered nuclear attacks.

“I must admit that the path to a world without nuclear weapons has become even more challenging,” Kishida said.

He described North Korea’s repeated launches of ballistic missiles, including ICBMs, and development of nuclear weapons as a serious threat to regional peace and stability.

“The non-transparent buildup of military capacity, including nuclear arsenals, around Japan has become a serious regional security concern,” he said.

The threat may damage non-proliferation efforts by creating a reluctance among possessors of nuclear weapons to abandon them, and a desire among others to develop them, Kishida said.