The head of a Japanese Defense Ministry expert panel said Monday that the nation's planned 43 trillion yen ($290 billion) defense outlays for five years from the current fiscal year 2023 may be insufficient, citing recent price surges and a weaker yen.

The spending plan is already much larger than in past years to address security threats from China's military buildup and North Korea's nuclear and missile programs. But the panel's head, Sadayuki Sakakibara, cast doubt on whether the government can strengthen its defense posture under the plan.

The government should primarily focus on sticking to the 43 trillion yen limit, Sakakibara, a former chief of the Japan Business Federation, known as Keidanren, told reporters after the panel's first meeting.

Sadayuki Sakakibara speaks during a meeting of a Defense Ministry experts panel at the ministry on Feb. 19, 2024. (Kyodo)

But he also said, "We should not make revisions (to the plan) taboo but should have honest discussions...based on reality, the public burden and specific financial resources."

He added that some other panel members made similar remarks at the meeting.

Prime Minister Fumio Kishida told a Diet session this month that he aims to maintain the size and contents of the plan despite expected increases in defense equipment prices and the yen's depreciation against other major currencies.

However, the panel's discussions may affect his position.

Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshimasa Hayashi told a press conference Monday that the government will realize a fundamental beefing up of Japan's defense capacities without overshooting the spending plan and has no intention to review it.

Japan's annual defense budget had long been capped at around 1 percent of gross domestic product, or a little more than 5 trillion yen, as the country adheres to its pacifist Constitution.

But in late 2022, Kishida's government decided to raise it to 2 percent in fiscal 2027 to fundamentally revamp the country's defense capabilities amid security threats from China and North Korea.

Japanese Defense Minister Minoru Kihara (R) exchanges a document with U.S. Ambassador to Japan Rahm Emanuel during a signing ceremony in Tokyo on Jan. 18, 2024, for Japan's purchase of land-based Tomahawk cruise missiles. (Kyodo) ==Kyodo

To cover the rising defense costs, the government plans to raise corporate, income and tobacco taxes, as well as carry out spending reform. However, the timing of the tax hikes has yet to be determined.

Consisting of scholars, former senior government officials and business leaders, the 17-member panel is tasked with advising the government on drawing up specific measures to boost Japan's defense capacities based on its three key documents updated in December 2022.

The documents include the long-term policy guidelines National Security Strategy, in which Tokyo pledged to acquire "counterstrike capabilities" that allow it to strike enemy territory directly in an emergency.

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