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Biden encouraged Kishida to increase defense spending during October talks

U.S. President Joe Biden expressed his hope that Japan would increase its defense spending during a phone call with Prime Minister Fumio Kishida in October, a diplomatic source said, as the two allies deepen their ties amid China’s rise.

Biden’s remarks came in the wake of Kishida showing eagerness to beef up Japan’s defense outlays, which have been kept around 1% of the country’s gross domestic product in light of the war-renouncing Constitution.

According to the source, Biden did not mention exactly how much of an increase would be desirable during the call that took place shortly after Kishida took office. But he conveyed his expectations that Japan would steadily make progress in reviewing its defense capabilities.

The issue is expected to be discussed during the next talks between Biden and Kishida and during security talks involving the two countries’ foreign and defense ministers.

The United States would apparently welcome Japan’s increased defense expenditure as it would signal Tokyo’s eagerness to take on a larger role in the security in the region, with concerns growing over Beijing’s assertiveness toward Taiwan and its territorial claims over the Japanese-controlled Senkaku Islands in the East China Sea.

But greater defense roles of U.S. allies in Asia could trigger an arms race in the region, some observers warn.

Japan’s annual defense budget has been increasing in the face of North Korea’s nuclear and missile threats and China’s rise, exceeding ¥5 trillion since fiscal 2016.

But its defense expenditure as a share of GDP was still lowest among Group of Seven industrialized nations, as well as Australia and South Korea, in fiscal 2020, with the figure standing at 0.94%, according to the country’s Defense White Paper.

Kishida said in September when he was campaigning in the ruling Liberal Democratic Party leadership race that defense spending should not be “bound by figures” such as the 1% GDP threshold.

The LDP, of which Kishida is now president, also proposed ahead of the general election in late October a target of spending 2% of the GDP on defense, similar to the goal upheld by members of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization.

Daniel Kritenbrink, the top U.S. diplomat for East Asia, said during an interview while he was in Japan in early November that Washington would “welcome” an increase in Japan’s defense budget.

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