Articles by "Japan"

Japan's Emperor Akihito (3rd L), Empress Michiko (R), Spain's King Felipe (2nd L) and Queen Letizia (L) inspect an earthquake disaster prevention center in Shizuoka, Japan, April 7, 2017. (Photo by AFP)
Japan’s lower house of parliament has passed a bill allowing 83-year-old Emperor Akihito to abdicate and let his elder son succeed him to the Chrysanthemum throne.
The bill, which also calls for a study on empowering the role of women in the dynasty, was unanimously approved by lawmakers on Friday.
The bill now moves to the more powerful upper house or senate for the final approval which is expected to be next week.
Akihito had expressed his apparent wish to abdicate last summer, due his age and declining health. He has been treated for prostate and heart disease.
The post WWII Imperial House Law set in 1947, when Japan was under occupation, however, had not included any provision for the emperor's abdication.
If Akihito's abdication request is approved by the upper house, he can retire in three years at age 86 after 30 years as the Emperor of Japan.
Akihito was 56 years old when he took the throne in January 1989 after the death of his father, Emperor Hirohito, who died at age 87.
This photo taken on January 2, 2015 shows Japan's Emperor Akihito (R) waving to well-wishers, as Crown Prince Naruhito looks on, during their New Year greetings in Tokyo. (via AFP)
Crown Prince Naruhito, the first in line to succession, is 57 years old.
The male-only succession rule bans Naruhito’s daughter from succeeding to the throne.
Naruhito’s younger brother, Prince Akishino, has two adult daughters and a 10-year-old son.
Lawmakers are now considering the future of the succession by making possible changes in the rules determining the country's 2,000-year-old monarchy.
However, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and his ultra-conservative Liberal Democratic Party are reluctant to make changes in the traditional rules of the dynasty despite concerns about a shortage of heirs among Japan’s ruling family.

The Carl Vinson Carrier Strike Group is pictured in the western Pacific region on June 1, 2017. (By AFP)
Japan’s naval and air forces have launched a three-day joint military drill with US aircraft carriers in the Sea of Japan amid tensions with North Korea over its missile and nuclear programs.
On Thursday, Japanese destroyers Hyuga and Ashigara joined the US aircraft carriers, the USS Carl Vinson and USS Ronald Reagan, in the sea, which separates Japan from the Korean Peninsula, Japan’s military said.
At the same time, Japan’s Air Self Defense Force F-15s are taking part in simulated combat with US Navy F-18 fighters, the military added.
“It’s the first time we have exercised with two carriers,” said a Japanese military spokesman. “It’s a major exercise for us.”
However, the US Seventh Fleet said on its Facebook page that the drill is “routine training to improve interoperability and readiness in the Indo-Asia Pacific.”
The US has sent its strike group to the region in what is intended to be a show of force amid North Korea’s advancing missile and military nuclear programs.
The US navy released this photo on June 1, 2017 showing the Carl Vinson strike group off the Korean Peninsula. (Via AFP)
The US military has also deployed the controversial THAAD missile system to a site in South Korea to counter what it calls threats from the North.
North Korea which considers the deployments as an act of provocation, has threatened the US with a nuclear attack in case of a direct military action.
US President Donald Trump has taken a very harsh stance toward North Korea since he took office four months ago. His administration has declared an end to Washington’s “strategic patience” with the North.
Japan has also been pushing to increase pressure on Pyongyang through working with other countries.
Pyongyang, however, insists that its missile and nuclear activities act as deterrence against a potential invasion by its adversaries.
Moon’s aide in Washington
In another development, South Korean President Moon Jae-in’s top security aide left the country for Washington on Thursday.
The president’s national security adviser, Chung Eui-yong, who would meet Trump’s national security adviser, H.R. McMaster, said that his trip has nothing to do with the recent controversy that erupted over the deployment of THAAD missile system into his country.
“We’ve sufficiently explained that this has nothing to do with our alliance,” Chung said.
South Korea’s new president has ordered an investigation after he found out that Defense Ministry failed to inform him that four more missile launchers for the THAAD system had been brought into the country.
The probe later found that South Korea’s military authorities had deliberately withheld the information from Moon.
Moon said it was “very shocking” that his office had not been told of the latest deployment while he is preparing for a summit with Trump in Washington this month.
The president, who previously said he was concerned by the deployment, has reassured that the probe was not meant to “change the existing decision or sending a message to the United States.” 

Members of Japan’s lower house of parliament stand up to support a bill during the plenary session in Tokyo on June 2, 2017. (Photo by AFP)
Japan’s lower house of parliament passed a bill Friday that allows ageing Emperor Akihito to step down, as it also called for a rare debate on the role of women in the male-dominated monarchy.
Japan has not had an imperial abdication in two centuries and there was no law to deal with 83-year-old Akihito’s surprise retirement request after nearly three decades on the Chrysanthemum Throne.
The popular monarch shocked the country last summer when he signaled his desire to hand the crown to his eldest son, Crown Prince Naruhito, citing age and declining health -- he has been treated for prostate cancer and had heart surgery.
The one-off bill is widely expected to become law next week after passage through the upper house.
The abdication must take place within three years of the bill becoming law or it expires -- and it only applies to Akihito.
Some scholars and politicians feared that changing the law to allow any emperor to abdicate could put Japan's future monarchs at risk of being subject to political manipulation.
Japan has had abdications in its long imperial history, but the last one was over 200 years ago and politicians had to craft legislation to make it possible because there was no provision for it in modern law.
The status of the emperor is highly sensitive in Japan given its 20th century history of war waged in the name of Akihito's father Hirohito, who died in 1989.
The abdication issue has highlighted concerns over a potential succession crisis in one of the world's oldest monarchies.
This file photo taken on September 26, 2016 shows Japan's Emperor Akihito making a speech to open an extra Diet session at the upper house of parliament in Tokyo. (Photo by AFP) 
A government panel in April issued a warning over the dwindling number of male heirs.
On Friday, the powerful lower house passed a non-binding resolution that called on the government to consider giving women a bigger role in the monarchy.
Female imperial family members lose their royal status upon marriage to a commoner.
The law does not apply to male royals, with Akihito and both his sons marrying commoners, and only men are allowed to become emperor, though Japan has been ruled by empresses in past centuries.
When Naruhito, who has a daughter, ascends the throne, his younger brother Akishino will be next in line, followed by Hisahito, Akishino's 10-year-old son.
But there are no more eligible males after that, meaning the centuries-old succession would be broken if Hisahito fails to have a son in the future.
News of the upcoming engagement of the emperor’s granddaughter Mako, 25, to her college sweetheart has intensified a debate on whether the law should be changed so women born into the imperial family can continue in their royal roles.
That could help increase the number of potential male heirs.

North Korea has launched what is thought to be a short-range ballistic missile into the Sea of Japan.
According to South Korea’s Joint Chiefs of Staff, the projectile was launched in the eastern direction from Wonsan, from the Gangwon province, early on Monday.
“It is estimated to be a Scud type [missile],” said a statement, noting that the missile was in the air for about 450 kilometers.
“The president was immediately notified of the situation, and the president ordered the national security council meeting at 7:30 am,” the South Korean statement added.
Japan’s Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga said that Pyongyang’s missile test posed risk to air traffic in the region as well as ships crossing the Sea of Japan.
“This ballistic missile launch by North Korea is highly problematic from the perspective of the safety of shipping and air traffic and is a clear violation of United Nations Security Council resolutions," he added.
While condemning the launch, he noted that the missile seemed to have fallen in the Sea of Japan within the Japanese exclusive economic zone (EEZ).
Japan vows action against the North
On Monday, Japan's Prime Minister Shinzo Abe slammed Pyongyang’s missile test, while promising an international reaction towards the North’s continued provocations.
"As we agreed at the recent G7, the issue of North Korea is a top priority for the international community," said Abe during a televised interview.
"Working with the United States, we will take specific action to deter North Korea," he said, adding that, Japan will do whatever is necessary to protect its people.
North Korea releases footage of air defense test
On Sunday, North Korean television broadcasted footage of a reported test of an anti-aircraft defense system.
Following the test, orders were issued to commence the mass construction of the system.   
“This weapon system, whose operation capability has been thoroughly verified, should be mass-produced to deploy all over the country… so as to completely spoil the enemy’s wild dream to command the air, boasting of air supremacy and weapon almighty,” said the state-run Korean Central News Agency (KCNA).
Last week, KCNA announced that the country’s leader Kim Jong-un had overseen the test-launch of a Pukguksong (Polaris)-2 ground-to-ground missile and “approved the deployment of this weapon system for action.”
This undated picture released by North Korea's official Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) on May 28, 2017 shows North Korean leader Kim Jong-un (C) inspecting the test of a new anti-aircraft guided weapon system.
The latest test came less than two weeks after the North test-fired a Hwasong-12 intermediate-range missile, which landed in the sea between North Korea and Japan on May 14.
The North, under an array of sanctions for its missile and nuclear programs, says it is developing arms as deterrence against the US threat. North Korea has also said that it would not abandon its missile and nuclear programs unless the US ended its hostility toward Pyongyang.
Unsettled by North Korean missile and nuclear programs, the United States has adopted a war-like posture, sending a strike group and conducting joint military drills with North Korea’s regional adversaries Japan and South Korea.

Thousands of people have held a protest rally in the Japanese capital, Tokyo, to express their dissent against the government of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe for putting forward a controversial “anti-terror” bill.
Demonstrators, carrying placards, flooded the capital’s streets on Wednesday evening. They said the government would be prosecuting practically everybody in the name of fighting terrorism if the bill was passed.
The protest came a day after the country’s lower house approved the “conspiracy bill,” which enlisted 277 new types of offences deemed by the lawmakers as threats against Japanese national security.
People demonstrate against a piece of “anti-terror” legislation in the Japanese capital, Tokyo, May 24, 2017.
The government argues that with the help of the bill, if it is passed, it will be able to mount a crackdown on what it calls organized crime and punish those who plan to carry out “serious crimes” against the country.
The bill now needs to be ratified by the upper house, the House of Councilors — where Abe’s coalition has the upper hand — to become law.
While Tokyo argues that the legislation should be adopted before the Tokyo Olympics in 2020 in an attempt to battle terrorism and organized crime, the opponents of the bill say they fear it would treat such offenses as sit-in demonstrations and violations of copyrights as “serious crimes.”
People demonstrate against a piece of “anti-terror” legislation in the Japanese capital, Tokyo, May 24, 2017.
The government further argues that the law would be necessary to ratify the United Nations (UN)’s Convention against Transnational Organized Crime.
The demonstrators in the Wednesday rally also protested against a number of other issues, including Japan’s nuclear power policies and the United States’ presence on the Japanese Okinawa Island.

The Japanese telecom conglomerate is investing $28 billion and has agreements with Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment Fund, Abu Dhabi’s Mubadala Investment Co. and Apple Inc.

SoftBank Group Corp. secured the first capital commitment to a $100 billion fund with Saudi Arabia and Abu Dhabi that would eventually put its founder Masayoshi Son in charge of one of technology’s biggest investment vehicles.
The Japanese telecom conglomerate is investing $28 billion and has agreements with Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment Fund, Abu Dhabi’s Mubadala Investment Co. and Apple Inc. With more than $93 billion committed, the fund — which includes Qualcomm Inc., Foxconn Technology Group and Sharp Corp. — aims to reach $100 billion within six months, SoftBank said in a statement Saturday. Mubadala committed $15 billion, according to a separate statement.
The Vision Fund will seek long-term investments in businesses aimed at innovation. SoftBank has relied on borrowing and earnings from its domestic telecom operations to pay for investments in startups in India, U.S. and China while dealing with losses at U.S. subsidiary Sprint Corp. By tapping outside investors, billionaire Son will be able to cut more ambitious deals than he could on his own.
“SoftBank has long made bold investments in transformative technologies and supported disruptive entrepreneurs,” Son said in the statement. “The SoftBank Vision Fund is consistent with this strategy and will help build and grow businesses creating the foundational platforms of the next stage of the Information Revolution.”
Khaldoon Khalifa Al Mubarak, chief executive officer of Mubadala, said the SoftBank fund “perfectly complements” the company’s strategy to become an investor in high-growth technology companies.
Technology Targets
Son has made tens of billions from investments in companies including Alibaba Group Holding Ltd., Yahoo and Supercell Oy, and the new fund will likely pursue a similar strategy of backing technology companies at all stages. The focus may well be the U.S. after Son met with President Donald Trump in December and pledged to create 50,000 new jobs by investing $50 billion in startups and new companies.
Among the fund’s first investments are an acquisition of a 25 percent stake in SoftBank’s ARM Holdings Plc and its investment in satellite startup OneWeb Ltd.
SoftBank Vision Fund will be based in West London’s Mayfair. The Japanese company named Rajeev Misra, its head of strategic finance, to lead the project. Jonathan Bullock, chief operating officer of SoftBank International, and Alok Sama, SoftBank’s chief financial officer, have also been appointed senior advisers.
The shares of SoftBank are up about 25 percent since the fund was announced in October, buoyed by the prospects it would ease the strain on the Japanese company’s balance sheet. Son’s appetite for deals has left SoftBank with a record $130 billion debt load, one of the heaviest in Japan.

Japanese Emperor Akihito (R) and Empress Michiko visit Shizuoka Sengen Shrine to offer prayers in Shizuoka on April 7, 2017. (Photo by AFP)
The Japanese government on Friday approved a one-off bill allowing ageing Emperor Akihito to step down from the Chrysanthemum Throne, in the first such abdication in two centuries.
The bill will now be sent to parliament for debate and likely receive swift final approval, Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga said after Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s cabinet signed off on the legislation.
Abdication must take place within three years of the bill becoming law.
Earlier this year, reports suggested that 83-year-old Akihito could step down at the end of December 2018 and be replaced by Crown Prince Naruhito on January 1, 2019.
Reports of his desire to retire surprised Japan when they emerged last July.
In August, he publicly cited age and declining health, which was interpreted as his wish to hand the crown to his eldest son.
But current Japanese law has no provision for abdication, thus requiring politicians to craft legislation to make it possible.
The status of the emperor is highly sensitive in Japan given its 20th century history of war waged in the name of Akihito's father Hirohito, who died in 1989.
Revered as a demigod before and during the conflict, Hirohito was reduced to a mere figurehead as part of postwar reforms.
Akihito has won plaudits for seizing upon the constitutionally-prescribed role of national symbol and there is wide sympathy for his wish to retire.
While a majority of the Japanese public supports a permanent law on abdication, they have also expressed support for the current bill for the sake of realizing Akihito's smooth transition from the throne.
While abdications are far from unknown in Japanese history, the last one was in 1817.
The leading opposition Democratic Party has argued the law should be permanently changed to ensure stable future successions, but is reportedly on side with the current one-off bill after talks with the ruling bloc.

An RQ-4 Global Hawk drone
The United States has deployed a high-altitude surveillance drone to Japan to monitor North Korea’s activities amid heightened tensions with Pyongyang.
The RQ-4 Global Hawk drone with the capability of collecting aerial data from an altitude of about 15 kilometers or higher arrived at Yokota Air Base in Tokyo late on Monday and will be in Japan on a five-month mission.
According to the US Defense Ministry, the drone will be remotely controlled from Yokota during take-off and landing, and then from the US mainland, once it reaches a sufficient altitude.
US military officials said four other Global Hawk drones and a total of 110 staff members would soon be sent to Japan, arguing that the deployment is aimed at ensuring the security of Japan.
In a statement published last month, the US Pacific Command saidt Washington "continues to deploy its most advanced capabilities to Japan, including the Global Hawk, in keeping with our commitment to further contribute to the security of Japan and to the stability of the region."
Global Hawks lack offensive capabilities and are used in reconnaissance flights to provide real-time aerial imagery.  
The development comes a few days after Tokyo and Washington conducted joint military drills in the waters off Japan’s Okinawa Island. North Korea has threatened the US with a nuclear attack at any sign of military aggression.
Pyongyang has also insisted that it will continue its nuclear and missile programs until Washington stops its hostilities toward the East Asian country.
The North has so far conducted five confirmed nuclear tests and numerous missile test-launches, and it is believed to be preparing for a sixth nuclear weapons test.

Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu (L) and Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov (2nd L) shake hands with Japanese Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida (2nd R) and Defense Minister Tomomi Inada in Tokyo on March 20, 2017. (Photo by Reuters)
Russian and Japanese foreign and defense ministers have held "two-plus-two" talks in Tokyo to strengthen regional security and end a decades-long territorial dispute.
Japanese Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida was meeting with his Russian counterpart Sergei Lavrov on Sunday after Japanese Defense Minister Tomomi Inada sat down for talks with Russian counterpart Sergei Shoigu. 
Japan and Russia last held "two-plus-two" talks in November 2013. Meetings were shelved after that due to the crisis in Ukraine, as Japan joined sanctions against Moscow.
The one-day meeting is largely focusing on regional security, especially how best to deal with North Korea's launches of missiles and its nuclear program.
Russia's Foreign Ministry said before the talks that its envoys would raise the issue of a plan by the US and South Korea to deploy a missile system known as THAAD, which has antagonized China and Russia.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov (4th R) and Japanese Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida (4th R) attend a meeting in Tokyo on March 20, 2017. (Photo by AFP)
Joint efforts in fighting terrorism and drug trafficking were also on the agenda.
The Tokyo talks are not expected to lead to a breakthrough on conflicting claims to islands that came under Russian control after Japan's defeat in World War II.
The islands in the Western Pacific, called the Northern Territories in Japan and the Southern Kuriles in Russia, were seized by Soviet forces at the end of the war and 17,000 Japanese residents were forced to flee.
A picture taken on December 9, 2016 shows boats on dry dock at the harbor outside the town of Kurilsk on the island of Iturup.
Despite the differences, the countries see more room for agreement on joint development of fisheries, tourism and other areas that might help bridge the gap.
Kishida said he intended to work in a "speedy manner" to move closer toward reaching a peace treaty, especially making progress on joint economic development.
Lavrov agreed, saying he believed "this joint development will become an important step to create an appropriate environment for resolving a peace treaty."
Japanese officials also said the talks would include work on planning a visit by Prime Minister Shinzo Abe to Moscow later this year. Logistics of visits by Japan's former residents of the disputed islands will also be addressed, they said.

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe (R) waves before leaving Tokyo's Haneda Airport on March 19, 2017 for a four-day trip to Europe. (Photo by AFP)
Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe headed Sunday for a four-day trip to Europe, hoping to discuss security issues and make progress on trade as regional tensions soar over accelerating North Korean threats.
Abe's trip, which will take him to Germany, France, Belgium and Italy, comes a few days after US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson visited Tokyo for talks on North Korean nuclear and missile threats.
The top US diplomat also travelled to Seoul and Beijing after Tokyo.
"I want to exchange opinions openly with G7 leaders," Abe told reporters at a Tokyo airport before his departure.
"We hope to closely cooperate with the EU on issues the international community is facing such as the problems on North Korea and free trade," he said.
Abe's itinerary includes a visit to technology show CeBIT in Hanover followed by a summit with German Chancellor Angela Merkel and a meeting with French President Francois Hollande in Paris.
Abe will hold talks with European Commission head Jean-Claude Juncker and freshly re-elected European Union President Donald Tusk in Brussels as the EU aims to close a free trade deal with Tokyo this year.
The Japanese premier will return to Tokyo on Wednesday after meeting with Italian Prime Minister Paolo Gentiloni, chair of this year's Group of Seven industrialized countries.

Japan has launched a new spy satellite into space in an apparent mission to enhance the monitoring of North Korea.
The IGS Radar 5 satellite was launched into orbit on a Japanese H-2A rocket from the Tanegashima Space Center in southern Japan on Friday.
Japan currently has three optical satellites for daytime surveillance and three radar satellites for nighttime monitoring. Two of those are backups.
The new satellite will replace one of the three radar satellites that had been launched in 2011.
The mission of the satellites is officially declared as “information-gathering” — a euphemism for spying — but they are also used to monitor damage in the wake of natural disasters. Japan started putting “information-gathering” satellites into orbit in 2003.
Paving the path to war?
The new launch comes at volatile times in the region. North Korea has attracted much attention with its increased missile and nuclear activities. On March 6, North Korea fired four ballistic missiles, three of which landed into the Sea of Japan, in an area that Tokyo claims as its sovereign territory. Japan reacted with rhetorical anger but took no action.
The United States, meanwhile, has been stirring regional tensions by holding military drills with South Korea and Japan that are meant to be a signal to North Korea.
North Korea interprets the maneuvers as rehearsals for a possible invasion of the country. It has been technically at war with South Korea for decades; a war between the two Koreas in the early 1950s ended in a ceasefire only and not a peace agreement.
Amid the military maneuvers, missile launches, and mutual pledges of strong action, the risks are high for the US, Japan, South Korea, and the North to stumble into war. While the joint drills between the US and South Korea are an annual occurrence, they can be particularly provocative this year.
This handout photo, taken on March 6, 2017, shows the first elements of the US-built Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) system arriving at the Osan US Air Base in Pyeongtaek, south of Seoul, South Korea. (Via AFP)
The US has just begun deploying an advanced missile system in South Korea in a declared mission to counter threats from the North. The installment of the Terminal High-Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) has angered Pyongyang, as well as its main ally Beijing.
The THAAD is equipped with a powerful detection system known as an X band radar, which experts say would destabilize regional security and upset the region’s current military balance.
China has warned that a war is likely and has been repeatedly calling on all parties to try to de-escalate the tensions to avoid conflict.
Just on Thursday, US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said two decades of US policies had failed to deter North Korea from advancing a military nuclear program, calling for “a new approach.” He did not explain.

Saudi King Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud has arrived in Tokyo on an extravagant visit to Japan along with an entourage of 1,000 people.
King Salman, who is scheduled to meet with Japanese Emperor Akihito and hold a bilateral meeting with Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, arrived at Tokyo’s Haneda Airport on Sunday evening.
According to local media, the Saudi ruler is traveling with an enormous entourage estimated to have over 1,000 people. Some 1,200 rooms at Tokyo's luxury hotels have been booked by the delegation for the three-night stay through Wednesday.
Reports said hundreds of limousines have been brought into the Japanese capital to accommodate the visitors.
The trip is the first by a Saudi monarch to Japan in almost 50 years.
Saudi Arabia is the largest provider of oil for Japan. Tokyo relies on Middle East for energy to power the world's third largest economy.
Saudi king’s luxurious month-long Asia tour has already taken him to Malaysia and Indonesia and will also see him going to China and the Maldives. This comes as the world watches in surprise the extravagant lifestyle of the Saudi monarch at a time that the country is grappling with serious financial problems.
During his visit to Indonesia, the 81-year-old Saudi ruler was accompanied by at least 1,500 people -- including 10 ministers, 25 princes and 800 delegates -- who traveled to Indonesia on 36 different flights over a period of three weeks, the Indonesian news agency Antara reported.
Adji Gunawan, the president of the airport services company, PT Jasa Angkasa Semestar, told the Jakarta Post that the Saudi king had 459 tonnes of equipment, including two Mercedes-Benz S600s and two electric lifts.
The firm said 63 tonnes of King Salman’s cargo would be unloaded in Jakarta and 396 tonnes would be taken to Bali.
Saudi Arabian King Salman (C) heads for his car after getting off the plane upon his arrival at Haheda Airport in Tokyo, Japan, March 12, 2017. (Photo by AFP)
During his visit to Jakarta, a protest rally was held outside the Saudi embassy in Indonesian capital to condemn violence against Indonesian migrant workers in the kingdom.
The demonstrators held placards and umbrellas reading, “Stop Violence,” “World Peace” and “Stop violence against migrants.” At least, one protester was arrested during the rally.
King Salman’s expensive tour to East and Southeast Asia comes as the country’s fiscal reserves dropped to a four-year low last year after the country posted a record high budget deficit of $98 billion.
In late February, Saudi Arabia started taxing water after analysts warned that the kingdom's unsustainable and extravagant use of water was rapidly depleting the country's reserves, Saudi newspaper Al-Watan Arabic daily reported.
Last December, the official Saudi Press Agency reported that Riyadh had decided to raise gasoline prices by more than 50 percent for some products.
Prices have been also increased for electricity, water, diesel and kerosene under the cuts approved by the council of ministers, which is headed by King Salman.
The collapse in oil prices and military expenses in Syria and Yemen, however, are burning through the country's foreign reserves at an alarming pace.
The International Monetary Fund (IMF) expects Saudi Arabia to run a budget deficit of 19.4% in 2016 and run out of financial assets within the coming five years.
According to the IMF, the kingdom would need an oil price of $106 a barrel to balance its budget.

This file photo, taken on September 3, 2015, shows Japanese forces directing a US Marines MV-22 Osprey to land during a joint military exercise. (By AFP)
Marine forces from Japan and the United States are conducting joint military exercises in the East China Sea amid an escalation of tensions in the region.
Japan’s Sankei Shimbun newspaper and Kyodo news agency reported on Friday that the two sides launched the military drills earlier this week. The maneuvers involve Japanese destroyers and a US Navy carrier strike group.
Sankei said the joint military drills were aimed at sending a warning to North Korea, which has been conducting ballistic missile tests in the region. The local media outlet added that the exercises were also meant to display the joint Japan-US military presence in the East China Sea, where Japan and China are locked in a long-running territorial dispute.
The US, an extra-regional country, has always taken sides will China’s rival claimants in regional territorial disputes. Last month, US President Donald Trump gave assurances to Japan that Washington was steadfast in its commitment to Tokyo against China and North Korea.
“We’re committed to the security of Japan… The bond between our two nations and the friendship between our two peoples runs very, very deep. This administration is committed to bringing those ties even closer,” Trump said in a joint press conference with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe in Washington on February 10.
US Marines deployed from Okinawa, Japan, are seen during joint military exercises in Pohang, South Korea, March 31, 2014. There are 77,000 US soldiers based in Japan and South Korea.
Trump told Abe that his administration, like past US administrations, would take Japan’s side in its territorial dispute with China over the disputed Diaoyus islands (known as Senkaku Islands in Japan).
China says the islands have been part of its territory since ancient times. Beijing has also called on the US “to take a responsible attitude, stop making wrong remarks... and avoid making the issue more complicated and bringing instability to the regional situation.”
China is also involved in a dispute with the Philippines, Malaysia, Brunei, and Vietnam over territory in the South China Sea.
There are 77,000 US soldiers based in Japan and neighboring South Korea.

TV news on North Korea's missile launch in February. Photo / AP
North Korean leader Kim Jong Un supervised the test launches of four missiles by an army unit commissioned with attacking US military bases in Japan, the country's official news agency reports.
North Korea fired four ballistic missiles into the sea off Japan's northwest yesterday, angering South Korea and Japan, days after it promised retaliation over US-South Korea military drills it sees as preparation for war.
"Involved in the drill were Hwasong artillery units of the KPA Strategic Force tasked to strike the bases of the US imperialist aggressor forces in Japan in contingency," the North's official KCNA news agency said.
"In the hearts of artillerymen ... there was burning desire to mercilessly retaliate against the warmongers going ahead with their joint war exercises," KCNA said.
"He (Kim) ordered the KPA Strategic Force to keep highly alert as required by the grim situation in which an actual war may break out any time, and get fully ready to promptly move, take positions and strike so that it can open fire to annihilate the enemies."

It came as the Secretary-General of the United Nations condemned North Korea's action.Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and US President Donald Trump discussed North Korea's missile launches during a phone call today, the Jiji and Kyodo news agencies reported.
"Such actions violate Security Council resolutions and seriously undermine regional peace and stability," a spokesman for UN chief Antonio Guterres said in a statement.
Guterres also called on North Korean leaders once again to refrain from further provocations and return to full compliance with the country's international obligations.

South Korean Army soldiers patrol along the barbed-wire fence in Paju, South Korea, near the border with North Korea. Photo / AP
North Korea was practicing to strike American military bases in Japan with its latest barrage of missiles, state media in Pyongyang reported.
Leader Kim Jong Un presided over the launches, "feasting his eyes on the trails of ballistic rockets," the report from the Korean Central News Agency said, in language that will only heighten tensions in the region.
The four ballistic missiles fired yesterday were launched by a military unit "tasked to strike the bases of the U.S. imperialist aggressor forces in Japan," the KCNA report said.
The United States has numerous military bases in Japan, part of its post-war security alliance with the country.
Three of the four missiles flew about 1000km over North Korea and landed in the sea, within Japan's exclusive economic zone off the Oga peninsula in Akita prefecture, home to a Japanese self-defense forces base. The fourth fell just outside the EEZ.

The US Strategic Command said its systems detected and tracked the projectile but "determined the missile launch from North Korea did not pose a threat to North America".Shinzo Abe, Japan's Prime Minister, said that the launches "clearly show that North Korea now poses a new level of threat".
North Korea did not say what kind of missiles it had fired, but with a maximum height of 260km, analysts said they were probably medium-range Rodongs or extended-range Scuds.
The KCNA statement said that Kim supervised a rocket launching drill of the Hwasong artillery units, an elite missile division in the Korean People's Army's Strategic Force.
"Respected Supreme Leader Kim Jong Un learned in detail about the preparations for fire strike while going round the ballistic rocket launching grounds," the report said. "At an observation post he was briefed on a launching plan and gave an order to start the drill."
Kim noted that the four missiles, launched simultaneously, "are so accurate that they look like acrobatic flying corps in formation," according to the report.
The 33-year-old marshal also ordered the strategic forces to be on high alert "as required by the grim situation in which an actual war may break out anytime, and get fully ready to promptly move".
The launches coincided with joint US-South Korean military exercises on the southern half of the Korean Peninsula, drills that take place every year and which North Korea views as preparation for an invasion.

Both Abe and South Korea's Prime Minister, Hwang Kyo Ahn, strongly condemned Monday's launches, while China's Foreign Ministry said it "opposes" them.
In New York, a spokesman for the UN Secretary-General António Guterres said he condemned the actions, which "violate Security Council resolutions and seriously undermine regional peace and stability".
In Washington, White House press secretary Sean Spicer said "the Trump Administration is taking steps to enhance our ability to defend against North Korea's ballistic missiles".
"The launches are consistent with North Korea's long history of provocative behavior," he told a press briefing. "The United States stands with our allies in the face of this very serious threat."

This US Department of Defense/Missile Defense Agency handout photo shows A Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) interceptor is launched from a THAAD battery located on Wake Island in the western Pacific Ocean. (Photos by AFP)
Washington says it has begun the deployment of its THAAD missile system to South Korea as North Korea announces that its latest missile tests were practice for attacking US military bases in Japan.
The launches were carried out by a unit "tasked to strike the bases of the US imperialist aggressor forces in Japan in contingency," said the North’s official KCNA news agency on Tuesday.
It added that it was carried out under the direct supervision of North Korea’s leader Kim Jong-un, who personally gave the launch orders.
On Monday, Pyongyang launched four missiles, three of which according to Tokyo went down in Japan’s Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ).
A photo taken on May 10, 2016 shows North Korean leader Kim Jong-un watching a military parade and mass rally on Kim Il-Sung square in Pyongyang. 

New stage of North Korean threat
Meanwhile, US President Donald Trump and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe have engaged in a phone conversation in which they agreed that the threat from North Korea had "entered a new stage."  
"Japan and the United States confirmed" the tests were in violation of UN Security Council resolutions and were a "clear challenge to the region and international community," said Abe after the call.
Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe speaks to journalists at his official residence in Tokyo on March 7, 2017, following telephone talks with US President Donald Trump.
"President Trump said the United States is 100 percent with Japan and he told me to convey his remarks to the Japanese people…He said he wanted us to trust him and the United States 100 percent," he added.
UNSC to hold emergency meeting
Also on Monday, the United Nations Security Council announced that it will be holding a meeting on Wednesday over the North’s missile tests.
It noted that the meeting was being convened on the request of the US and Japan.
UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres also slammed the tests, while calling on North Korea to "refrain from further provocations."
North Korea’s missile launches coincided with massive joint military drills being carried out by the US and South Korea on the Korean Peninsula. The war games have been condemned by Pyongyang as “dangerous nuclear war drills against the DPRK at its doorstep.”
The US has military forces in South Korea — a long-time adversary of the North — and is deploying an advanced missile system there in response to perceived threats from Pyongyang. The US also occasionally deploys nuclear-powered warships and aircraft capable of carrying atomic weapons in the region.

US starts THAAD deployment to South Korea  
Also on Tuesday, the US announced that it has started the deployment of the Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) anti-missile system to South Korea.
"Continued provocative actions by North Korea, to include yesterday's launch of multiple missiles, only confirm the prudence of our alliance decision last year to deploy THAAD to South Korea," said a statement released by the US Pacific Command.
Following the latest missile tests by North Korea, the White House announced that the US will hasten its deployment of its advanced missile system to South Korea.
"The Trump administration is taking steps to enhance our ability to defend against North Korea's ballistic missiles such as through the deployment of a THAAD battery to South Korea," said White House spokesman Sean Spicer.


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