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Japan agrees to a new budget including hefty arms costs to deter China


TOKYO (AP) — The lower house of parliament on Tuesday approved a budget for the upcoming fiscal year, including a…

TOKYO (AP) — The lower house of parliament on Tuesday approved a budget for the upcoming fiscal year that includes a record 6.8 trillion yen ($50 billion) in defense spending, part of Japan’s effort to strengthen its military. as China’s influence in the region grows.

The defense budget for 2023, up 20% from a year earlier, includes 211.3 billion yen ($1.55 billion) for the deployment of US-made long-range Tomahawk cruise missiles that can be launched from warships and target targets can hit up to 1,600 kilometers (1,000 mi). ) away.

The planned purchase of the Tomahawks has sparked criticism over costs, with opposition lawmakers berating Prime Minister Fumio Kishida for prioritizing arms spending over other issues, such as Japan’s shrinking population.

“The improvement of childcare has been neglected for more than 10 years,” Chinami Nishimura, a lawmaker from the opposition Constitutional Democratic Party of Japan, said in a meeting of the lower house budget committee on Tuesday. “Why was the budget for spending so much money on Tomahawks approved so quickly?”

“I don’t think it’s about choosing one or the other,” Kishida replied. “Both are important to people’s lives and livelihoods.”

Japan must pay the United States another 110 billion yen ($830 million) in the upcoming fiscal year, which begins in April, for equipment and software needed to launch the Tomahawks, plus fees for technology transfer and training.

Kishida told a parliamentary session on Monday that Japan will buy 400 Tomahawks.

Approval of the 114 trillion yen ($836 billion) budget by the lower house of parliament, the more powerful of its two chambers, ensures it will pass by the end of March regardless of a decision by the upper house.

The hefty defense budget is the first installment of a five-year 43 trillion yen ($315 billion) military spending plan as part of Japan’s new national security strategy, announced in December.

The new strategy involves developing a “counterattack” to avoid enemy attacks, a controversial change given Japan’s commitment to retain only defensive capabilities after its defeat in World War II. Military spending will nearly double over the next five years as Japan builds its defenses in response to potential threats from China, North Korea and Russia.

The new spending target meets NATO standards and will ultimately push Japan’s annual defense budget to about 10 trillion yen ($73 billion), the world’s third largest after the United States and China.

Kishida called Japan’s rapidly aging and shrinking population a national crisis and vowed to put together a package of comprehensive measures to address the problem in the coming months. In April, a new government department, the Agency for Children and Families, will be established to help coordinate government policies on various social issues, including child poverty and child abuse.

The budget allocates 4.8 trillion yen ($35 billion) to the new agency, but experts say more funding and wider social changes are needed to ease childcare and education burdens and encourage younger Japanese to get married and have children.

Government statistics released on Tuesday show that the number of births in 2022 has fallen to a record low of 799,728, below 800,000 for the first time since 1899 and at a faster-than-expected rate than previously predicted. The number of births last year was a third of the peak of nearly 2.7 million in 1949.

The 2023 budget also allocates more than 850 billion yen ($6.25 billion) to the Ministry of Economy and Industry to phase out fossil fuel use and 53 billion yen ($388 million) to promote digitalization and increase domestic production of computer chips.

On Tuesday, government-backed chipmaker Rapidus announced plans to build a new semiconductor manufacturing plant in Chitose on the northern main island of Hokkaido. Rapidus said it plans to launch a prototype line in 2025, with mass production of advanced chips planned for “the second half of the 2020s.”

Rapidus includes automaker Toyota Motor Corp., electronics makers Sony Group Corp. and NEC Corp., SoftBank Corp., Nippon Telegraph and Telephone Corp. and computer memory maker Kioxia. The company recently announced a partnership with International International Business Machines Corp. for the development and production of 2 nanometer chips.

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Joanna Swanson

Joanna Swanson is Europe correspondent at the Thomson Reuters Foundation based in Brussels covering politics, culture, business, climate change, society, economies and inclusive tech. With specific focus in breaking news, she has covered some of the world's most significant stories.