Japan will boost its military spending in coming years, buying early-warning planes, troop-carrying aircraft and beach-assault vehicles, while seeking closer ties with Asian partners to counter a more militarily assertive China.
The planned 2.6 percent increase over five years, announced yesterday, reverses a decade of decline and marks the clearest sign since Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe took office a year ago that he wants a bigger military role for Japan as tension flares with China over islands they both claim.
Abe’s top priority has been reviving a long-sluggish economy, but he has also pledged to strengthen Japan’s military and boost its security profile to meet what he says is a threat from China’s rapid military buildup and recent actions to back its claims to Japanese-held islands in the East China Sea.
“China is attempting to change the status quo by force in the skies and seas of the East China Sea and South China Sea, and other areas, based on its own assertions, which are incompatible with the established international order,” Japan said in its first national security strategy, one of three plans approved yesterday. “China’s stance toward other countries and military moves, coupled with a lack of transparency regarding its military and national security policies, represent a concern to Japan and the wider international community and require close watch.”
Abe’s government also vowed to review Japan’s ban on weapons exports, a move that could reinvigorate struggling defense contractors such as Mitsubishi Heavy Industries Ltd and Kawasaki Heavy Industries Ltd.
The policies, including a five-year military buildup and a 10-year defense guideline, call for stronger air and maritime surveillance capabilities, and improved ability to defend far-flung islands through such steps as setting up a marine unit, buying unarmed surveillance drones and putting a unit of E-2C early-warning aircraft on Okinawa.
Japan will budget ￥23.97 trillion (US$232.4 billion) over the coming five years for defense, up from ￥23.37 trillion the previous five years. Under current procurement practices, the five-year spending would have been ￥24.67 trillion, but the government expects to save ￥700 billion from streamlining procedures to cut costs, officials said.
Military spending had fallen for 10 years until Abe boosted the defense budget 0.8 percent this year. The Japanese Defense Ministry is seeking a 3 percent rise in the year from next April, the biggest increase in 22 years, although much of the growth reflects higher import costs due to a weaker yen.
Japanese Defense Minister Itsunori Onodera denied that the plan was aimed at any country vital.
“This is a country [China] with which we aim to have a strategic, mutually beneficial relationship. It is also a country we have deep ties economically, historically and culturally. It is important for ties with this important country to improve further,” Onodera said.
China’s Xinhua news agency said the measures were clearly aimed at China and it warned Japan against “big-power geopolitics.”
“If Japan really hopes to return itself to the ranks of a ‘normal country,’ it should face up to its aggression in history and cooperate with its Asian neighbors, instead of angering them with rounds and rounds of unwise words and policies,” Xinhua said.
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