Foreign Minister Taro Kono on Friday defended a roughly 14-fold increase in expenses requested by his ministry for chartered international flights, saying Japan needs to maintain its diplomatic influence through overseas visits.
Kono has floated the idea of acquiring an airplane solely dedicated to the foreign minister's frequent overseas trips. In a fiscal 2019 budget, however, he said the ministry did not seek related expenses as the country's fiscal situation is severe.
"My hope has been to use a dedicated airplane for the foreign minister's overseas travels but we are asking instead for a budgetary increase for chartered flights in view of fiscal restraints," Kono told reporters.
In the next fiscal year starting in April, the Foreign Ministry is seeking 960 million yen for chartered flights, up sharply from 70 million yen in fiscal 2018 through March. Ministries and agencies had to submit budgetary requests by Friday.
Japan's prime minister and the imperial family use government aircraft for overseas trips but the foreign minister travels on commercial flights.
Since becoming foreign minister in August last year, Kono has already visited 47 countries and regions, at a pace much faster than his predecessor Fumio Kishida, who went to 51 during his tenure that lasted about four years and eight months.
Kono said the overseas trips he has made over the past year are "the minimum" required to address international issues in an increasingly globalized world.
"If we reduce the number of overseas trips, it will weaken Japan's diplomatic power so whoever becomes foreign minister, it's inconceivable that (the pace of trips) will fall below this level," Kono said.
Japan's fiscal health is the worst among major advanced economies. But curbing spending is a daunting task as the aging of the country's population will inevitably increase expenses related to social security.