Japan's military spending set for 2.9pc rise as regional security fears grow
Equipment to help Tokyo defend disputed islands accounts for most of the 2.9pc increase
Japan's Defence Ministry is to ramp up its budget request for the next fiscal year by 2.9 per cent, a significant increase on this year's military spending and a reflection of Tokyo's concerns about the security of its borders.
The increase - a big leap from the 0.8 per cent rise in spending in the present fiscal year - will bring the budget request up to 4.893 trillion yen (HK$383 billion), according to sources quoted by the Asahi newspaper. It also signals a sharp departure from the declining defence outlays in the 10 years prior to the 2012 budget.
The majority of the increased spending is being earmarked for amphibious vehicles designed to put troops ashore on remote islands, as well as for additional transport ships for the Maritime Self-Defence Force.
This comes against the backdrop of the ongoing disagreement between Beijing and Tokyo over the sovereignty of the islands known as the Diaoyu chain in China and the Senkakus in Japan.
"Weapons systems are becoming ever more expensive and this increase will make it easier for the ministry to accommodate the procurement budget," said Jun Okumura, a visiting scholar at the Meiji Institute for Global Affairs.
"Inevitably, it comes in response to the increasing Chinese presence in waters and air space in the East China Sea that are near contested areas," Okumura said.
"The procurement plan calls for an improved amphibious capability for the military, and that ties in with the recent exercises that have been conducted by the self-defence forces in the south-west islands."
Those drills have been a simulated reaction to the hostile takeover of a remote Japanese island, and have included elements of the sea, air and ground forces of the military working together.
The information on planned defence spending comes shortly after the Maritime Self-Defence Force launched its newest submarine Kukoryu, meaning black dragon and named after the mythical creature said to protect the north of Japan.
The state-of-the-art conventional submarine slid down the slipway at the Kobe shipyards of Kawasaki Heavy Industries on October 31. The vessel, built at a cost of 53.4 billion yen, will join the rest of the Japanese fleet after further internal fitting work and sea trials.
The Japanese government has also announced plans to buy two more Aegis-equipped destroyers, bringing its fleet of advanced warships with the interceptor system to eight. The two new ships will each cost around 150 billion yen and are due to be operational within the next 10 years. They will also be fitted with the next-generation SM-3 Block IIA interceptor missiles, which are being developed by the United States.
Prime Minister Shinzo Abe is pushing ahead with plans to set up a Japanese version of the US National Security Council.
Justifying the creation of the new organisation in deliberations in the Diet earlier this month, Abe said: "The security environment surrounding Japan has become more severe."