Japan’s government is likely to increase defense spending for the first time in 11 years, Japanese media reported yesterday, as newly elected Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe pledges a sterner response to a territorial dispute over the Diaoyutai Islands (釣魚台) with China.
The government is considering increasing defense spending by about 2 percent to more than ￥4.7 trillion (US$53.4 billion) in the fiscal year starting in April, the Mainichi newspaper reported. It gave no source for its information.
The extra spending would be used to increase personnel in the ground self-defense forces and upgrade equipment for land, air and maritime forces, the Asahi newspaper also reported yesterday. It also did not cite any sources.
Japan scrambled fighter jets yesterday to head off a Chinese state-owned plane that flew near the islands, called the Senkakus in Japan and also claimed by Taiwan, a Japanese Ministry of Defense spokesman said.
The Japanese jets were mobilized after a Chinese maritime aircraft ventured about 120km north of the islands at about 12pm, the spokesman said.
The Chinese Y-12 twin-turboprop later left the zone without entering Japanese airspace over the islands, he added.
It was the first time Japanese fighter jets had been scrambled this year to counter Chinese aircraft approaching the islands, the spokesman said.
Japan dispatched fighter jets last month after a Chinese state-owned plane breached airspace over the islands, while Chinese government ships have moved in and out of waters there for the past few months.
The confrontations have become commonplace since Japan nationalized the East China Sea islands in September. The Japanese government administers the islands, and purchased three of them from a private owner then, sparking violent anti-Japanese protests across China.
There is a renewed focus on whether relations between China and Japan will improve after voters swept Abe’s conservative Liberal Democratic Party back into power last month after three years in opposition.
Abe has repeatedly said there is no room for negotiation on the islands and has said he would boost defense spending to counter China’s growing military clout.