Prime Minister Fumio Kishida said on Monday that Japan faces the most severe security environment in the region since the end of World War II and vowed to push for a military buildup under a newly adopted security strategy, as well as address the rapid decline. of births so that the country can sustain national strength.

Kishida’s government adopted key security and defense reforms in December, including a counter-strike capability that breaks with the country’s postwar exclusively self-defense principle.

Japan says the current deployment of missile interceptors is insufficient to fend off rapidly advancing weapons in China and North Korea.

In his opening speech at this year’s parliamentary session, Kishida said active diplomacy should be prioritized, but it requires «defense power to back it up.» He said Japan’s new security strategy is based on a realistic simulation «as we face the most severe and complex security environment since the end of World War II and the question of whether we can protect people’s lives in an emergency.» ”.

The strategy seeks to keep China’s increasingly assertive territorial ambitions in check, but it is also a sensitive issue for many Asian countries that fell victim to wartime Japanese aggression. Kishida said it is a «drastic change» of Japan’s security policy, but it still remains within the constraints of its anti-war constitution and international law.

«I make it clear that there will not be even the slightest change in Japan’s non-nuclear and self-defense principles and our steps as a peace-loving country,» Kishida said.

This month, Kishida toured five countries, including Washington, to explain Japan’s new defense plan and further develop defense ties with its ally the United States.

Kishida met with President Joe Biden at the White House earlier this month.Kevin Dietsch/Getty Images

While the security strategy said China presents «an unprecedented and greatest strategic challenge» to the peace and security of Japan and the region, Kishida said he hoped to maintain dialogue with China, including with its leader Xi Jinping, to find «construction and stable». relations.»

Japan plans to nearly double its defense budget within five years to 43 trillion yen ($332 billion) and improve cyberspace and intelligence capabilities. While three-quarters of an annual increase in the defense budget can be squeezed through tax and spending reforms, the rest must come from a potential tax increase, and Kishida has already faced increasing criticism from opposition lawmakers and even from his ruling party.

Kishida is also facing a critical issue of population growth.

“We cannot waste time on children’s policies and parenting support,” he said. “We must establish an economic society that puts children first and change the birth rate.”

Japan’s population of more than 125 million has been declining for 14 years and is projected to fall to 86.7 million by 2060. A shrinking and aging population has huge implications for the economy and national security.

Kishida pledged to bolster financial support for families with children, including more scholarships, saying he would compile a set of measures of «different dimensions.»

So far, efforts to encourage people to have more babies have had limited impact despite subsidies for pregnancy, childbirth and childcare. Some experts say government subsidies still tend to focus on parents who already have children rather than removing the pitfalls that discourage young people from starting families.

Opposition lawmakers questioned how the Kishida government will handle heavy spending on key policies.

Katsuya Okada, secretary general of Japan’s main opposition Constitutional Democratic Party, said it was «wrong» that only defense spending has been predetermined, even as huge spending is expected for measures to tackle low birthrates and care for the elderly.

“It is important to think about an adequate balance of the economy in the medium and long term. There needs to be a proper discussion about how much should be spent for what,” he said.

Japan is the world’s third-largest economy, but living costs are high and wage increases have been slow. The Conservative government has lagged behind in making society more inclusive of children, women and minorities.