Japan's Prime Minister Fumio Kishida attends a press conference in Tokyo on December 16, 2022. Image Credit: REUTERS

TOKYO: Japan’s government approved a major defence policy overhaul Friday, including a significant spending hike, as it warned China poses the “greatest strategic challenge ever” to its security.

In its largest defence shake-up in decades, Japan vowed to increase security spending to two per cent of GDP by 2027, reshape its military command, and acquire new missiles that can strike far-flung enemy launch sites.

Prime Minister Fumio Kishida told a news conference he was “determined to remain resolute in our mission to protect and defend the nation and its people, at this turning point in history”.

“In our neighbouring countries and regions, the strengthening of nuclear missile capabilities, rapid military build-up and attempts to unilaterally change the status quo by force have become even more pronounced,” he said, evoking Russia’s attacks on Ukraine as an example of the changing times.

Polls suggest Japan’s public largely backs the shift, but the changes could still be controversial because Japan’s post-war constitution does not officially recognise the military and limits it to nominally self-defensive capabilities.

The moves are outlined in three defence and security documents approved by the cabinet Friday.

They describe Beijing as “the greatest strategic challenge ever to securing the peace and stability of Japan”, as well as a “serious concern” for Japan and the international community.

In response, the government plans to raise its defence spending to two percent of GDP by fiscal 2027, bringing Japan in line with NATO member guidelines.

That marks a significant increase from historic spending of around one per cent and has sparked criticism over how it will be financed.

The money will fund projects including the acquisition of what Japan calls “counterstrike capacity” - the ability to hit launch sites that threaten the country.

The documents warn that Japan’s current missile interception systems are no longer sufficient, and Kishida said counterstrike capacity “will be essential in the future”.

“Japan’s adherence to the three non-nuclear principles, the exclusive defence policy and its progress as a peaceful nation will remain unchanged,” Kishida said on Friday.