Japan planning to hike military budget amid China dispute

AFP, TOKYO

Wed, Jan 09, 2013 - Page 1

Japan will raise military spending this year for the first time in more than a decade under a ruling party plan, an official said yesterday, as Tokyo summoned Beijing’s envoy in a territorial row.

The national defense task force of the newly elected Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) will raise the defense budget request by more than ¥100 billion (US$1.15 billion) in response to an emboldened China, a party official said.

The relatively small amount — a little more than 2 percent of the total military budget — is largely symbolic, but reflects anxiety at what Japan sees as an increasingly hostile region in which China appears happy to throw its weight around.

“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 on condition of anonymity.

The news came as the foreign ministry called in China’s ambassador to protest at the latest dispatch of official vessels into waters around the Tokyo-controlled Senkaku Islands, which Beijing claims as the Diaoyu Islands (世界華人保釣聯盟) and Taiwan claims as the Diaoyutais (釣魚台).

The ships entered the area around noon on Monday and left in the early hours of yesterday, officials said.

The summons was the first under Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, and is in line with the tough stance he pushed on China on the campaign trail last month.

However, Beijing rebuffed the move. Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokesman Hong Lei (洪磊) told reporters in Beijing patrols were “normal” because the islands are Chinese territory.

Nerves in Tokyo have also been rattled by an unpredictable North Korea. It sent a rocket over Japan’s southern islands last month in what it insisted was a satellite launch. Tokyo and its allies said the launch was a covert ballistic missile test.

In the run-up to last month’s election, the LDP pledged to expand the number of personnel in the Japanese Self-Defense Forces and boost their equipment and spending power.

The proposed increase in funding comes after declines over 10 consecutive years as Tokyo grappled with its huge public debt.

The initial defense budget for fiscal 2012, which ends in March, stood at ¥4.65 trillion. This compares with a budget for fiscal 2002 that peaked at ¥4.94 trillion.

Japanese Minister of Defense Itsunori Onodera has said Abe’s government will review Japan’s long-term basic defense program, adopted in 2010 under the Democratic Party of Japan, which was routed at the polls.

The current program includes plans to trim troop numbers by about 1,000.

Kyoto Sangyo University Institute for World Affairs director Kazuhiko Togo said the planned rise in defense spending was a direct result of China’s more hostile attitude, specifically over the disputed islands.

“China has publicly said it would seize the islands by force if necessary and acted as such. To avoid a possible armed clash, Japan has no choice but to possess deterrence by boosting its defense budget,” he said.

Meanwhile, Abe yesterday ordered Onodera to strengthen surveillance around the Senkakus, Kyodo news agency reported.

“I want you to respond firmly,” Kyodo quoted Abe as telling Onodera.

China’s State Oceanic Administration confirmed four Chinese marine surveillance ships were patrolling waters near the islands.

Additional reporting by Reuters