Diaoyu Islands

Japan increases military budget amid tension with Beijing

Spending rise details emerge as foreign minister visits Philippines amid South China Sea dispute

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 09 January, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 09 January, 2013, 3:45am

Japan is to spend more than US$1 billion to expand radar coverage and military surveillance flights in its first increase in military spending in more than a decade as the newly elected Liberal Democratic Party fleshes out its approach to dealing with an emboldened China.

Details of the budget increase emerged as Tokyo summoned the Chinese ambassador to formally protest against Beijing's latest deployment of ships to the Japanese-occupied Diaoyu Islands - which Tokyo calls the Senkakus - the first such move since Prime Minister Shinzo Abe was returned to office last month.

Abe's new foreign minister, Fumio Kishida, stages his first foreign trip today - visiting strategic partner the Philippines, which is also locked in a territorial dispute with China over the South China Sea.

Agence France-Presse quoted an official with the LDP's national defence task force as saying that the defence budget would be expanded by more than 100 billion yen (HK$8.8 billion).

"We have decided that the additional budget will be used for research into a new radar system as well as fuel and other maintenance costs for early-warning aircraft," the official said, despite Beijing's warnings against higher defence spending.

Japanese defence officials have become increasingly concerned about the long-term security of its southern island chain as the long-simmering Diaoyu-Senkaku spat degenerates into a new regional flashpoint and marked point of tension between Asia's two giants.

The budget increase highlights a significant shift across Japanese society and its political arena, with rises in defence spending for years considered a no-go area given the country's pacifist constitution. Despite the document limiting its military's role, Japan has a well-equipped and advanced military, including ultra-quiet submarines.

The increases are also likely to please its treaty ally the US, which has long urged Japan to spend more on its own defence long-term, while still continuing to host US forces on its soil.

In another move set to be closely watched by Beijing, Kishida is widely expected to discuss the provision of up to 10 state-of-the-art coast guard ships to the Philippines under a development aid package, according to diplomats.

A statement from Philippine foreign secretary Albert del Rosario confirmed the prospect of wide-ranging talks, saying that as well as bilateral relations, "regional issues and the foreign policy priorities of the new Japanese leadership" would be covered.

"The visit is an opportunity for both countries to advance the Philippines-Japan Strategic Partnership under the new Japanese administration," it said.