FULL REPORT: Japan – Revision of three key defence documents will accelerate militarisation of region

East AsiaJapan10 January 2023

FULL REPORT: Japan – Revision of three key defence documents will accelerate militarisation of region

Written by:
Cyrus Yau
Image Credit: FreshStock / Shutterstock

TorchlightTorchlight Predictions

  • New strategy will worsen political relations with China but is unlikely to impact close economic relationship in coming months
  • Prime Minister Kishida will expand diplomatic influence with European countries and encourage multilateral defence cooperation in coming year
  • Government will promote more private-public investment in national security related sectors, including cybersecurity and infrastructure
Source: Japanese Ministry of Defence via Statista


    • The Ministry of Defence approves the revision of three key strategic documents, namely the National Security Strategy (NSS), the National Defence Strategy, and the Defence Buildup Program. The updated NSS describes China as “the greatest strategic challenge” in ensuring the peace and security of Japan, and “strongly opposes” China’s growing attempts to unilaterally change the status quo in neighbouring regions, including the Taiwan Strait.  (16 December)
    • Prime Minister Fumio Kishida begins state visits to France, Italy, the UK and Canada. He then travels to Washington to meet US President Joe Biden on 13 January.  (9 January)


The revision of the three highest-level security guidelines – the first major overhaul in almost a decade – represents a significant step in formalising stronger defensive capabilities. The revisions reinforce Kishida’s plan to raise military spending by acquiring more advanced counter-strike weapons and upgrading critical infrastructure. China criticised the release of these documents, and will almost certainly accelerate the upgrading of the People’s Liberation Army’s capabilities in response. This will further intensify the militarisation of the East Asia region, though the likelihood of a major security conflict – stemming from a naval standoff or collision – will remain low in the near term.

The new NSS calls for enhanced security engagement with like-minded countries, including the members of the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue and NATO. Kishida’s upcoming visits will thus focus on increasing support from Western allies and investors for his military expansion plan. Tokyo will try to persuade partners to adopt a collective stance on issues like Taiwanese autonomy and North Korean denuclearisation. As the host of the G7 summit this year, Japan will promote multilateral cooperation, taking a greater role in shaping the regional security agenda. This will in turn lead to further criticism from China and North Korea, prompting more weapon tests from them in the coming months.

The Kishida administration will seek to regain public support by diverting attention from surging inflation to national security issues. Despite his low approval ratings, polling conducted in December indicates Kishida’s plan to upgrade Japan’s military capabilities has widespread support. His government’s hawkish foreign policy remains appealing to the general public. For example, Kishida’s sanctions against Moscow helped him to secure a convincing victory in the upper house elections last July. Resultantly, Tokyo’s policy agenda will focus heavily on national security issues in the coming year.

Strategic Outlook

The new documents, coupled with plans for military expansion, demonstrate a clear hardening in Japan’s stance towards China. Indeed, Tokyo has swiftly introduced entry restrictions against Chinese visitors due to high rates of coronavirus (COVID-19) infections after Beijing announced the gradual resumption of international travel. That said, the recent moves are unlikely to alter trade relationships between the two countries in the near term, as both countries rely heavily on each other to boost their economic recovery.

Tokyo also revealed plans to repair diplomatic ties with Seoul, vowing to address longstanding disputes stemming from Japanese wartime policies. Regardless of their success at addressing these issues, Japan and South Korea will continue to deepen security coordination through more multilateral exercises involving Washington. These efforts to improve relations are ultimately intended to deter military aggressiveness of China and North Korea.

Finally, the new NSS also provides guidelines for development in sectors linked to defence, namely cybersecurity and infrastructure. Tokyo will significantly expand investment and encourage private-public cooperation in technology to enhance the resilience of critical infrastructure, such as communications systems and data centres in the coming years. That said, more regulatory scrutiny will be placed on Japanese firms which have close relations with China, in the coming years.

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