After covering the continuing fallout from the Fukushima nuclear plant disaster, I decided to see how Japan’s economy was recovering after the devastating 2011 tsunami.

If Obama-style definitions were utilized, their recovery would be spectacular. However, with growth at 2.6%, there is serious pressure mounting on Prime Minister Shinzo Abe.

Japan’s economy grew 2.6% last quarter, slower than expected, as companies wary about the prospects for a sustained recovery kept a tight rein on investment.

On a quarter-to-quarter basis, the world’s third-largest economy grew 0.6% in April-June from the previous quarter, the Cabinet Office said on Monday in its preliminary estimate.

Japan’s public debt surpassed the 1 quadrillion yen (£6.7tn) mark last week and the country needs a strong recovery to boost tax revenues enough to begin reducing its debt burden.

But one sector may be experiencing real growth. With a crazed neighbor to its north, and an aggressive one to its west, Japan has sensibly decided to increase defense spending.

Defense Minister Itsunori Onodera said Japan cannot afford to be complacent over what he said are significant security issues in the region. His ministry announced last week it is seeking a 3 percent increase in defense spending for the coming year, the biggest increase it has requested in 22 years.

Onodera said the increase reflects growing concern in Japan that it must move to counter a more assertive Chinese military amid territorial disputes over uninhabited southern islands. He also noted that North Korea has the ability to strike targets within Japan — including U.S. bases where about 50,000 American troops are stationed — and said Japan’s military must be fully prepared to respond with its allies to any contingency with the North.

“There are various tensions ongoing in Asia, and in some cases, there are countries that even use threats,” he said.

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has been a strong advocate of strengthening Japan’s military despite the country’s other economic pressures, including the massive costs of reconstruction and decontamination following the nuclear disaster triggered by the devastating earthquake and tsunami that hit Japan’s northern shoreline in 2011. Japan’s defense spending has been declining steadily for 11 years, although it increased slightly this year.

And that members of the current administration are “concerned” should indicate the new Japanese approach to its national defense is a good one.

The U.S. is growing increasingly concerned with Japan’s overhaul of its military capabilities, a number of recent stories make clear.

Earlier this week Kyodo news reported that U.S. officials have expressed concern to their Japanese counterparts over Tokyo’s plans to develop the capability to conduct offensive assault operations against other countries in the region….

The report went out to say that U.S. officials asked for clarification on which countries Japan would develop the capability to attack, and asked Japan to not worsen tensions with China and South Korea.

I suspect the Japanese government will address the “concerns” with the usual amount of deference and respect that the Obama administration is regularly receiving on the global stage. It will be interesting to see how the Japanese defense program develops from this point forward, but a Time World article notes that a lot of the funds will be directed at salaries slashed after the tsunami.

As dramatic as the turnaround in Japan’s defense spending might appear, it will buy very little new capability. Much of the increase in 2014 would go to restoring government-wide pay cuts imposed after the 2011 earthquake and tsunami in northeast Japan.


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