Japan looks set to beef up its military budget for the seventh year in a row under Prime Minister Shinzo Abe in the face of a rising threat from North Korea and an expanding China.
In a budget draft approved Friday, the Japanese government raised military spending by 2.1% to 5.2 trillion yen ($47.6 billion). It will still need to be approved by the Japanese parliament, the Diet, at a later date.
Among the big ticket purchases laid out in the budget are two Aegis Ashore land-based, anti-ballistic missile defense systems, worth $266 million, and six advanced F-35A fighters costing $89.6 million.
Tokyo said the growing defense spending was necessary to cope with an increasingly severe security environment, highlighting North Korea and China specifically in its defense paper published separately on Tuesday and titled “Defense of Japan 2018.”
Japan’s defense budget still lags far behind that of close ally the United States, which requested $686 billion for 2019, and neighbor China, which increased spending 8.1% to $175 billion in 2018.
Abe was re-elected as Prime Minister in 2017 on a promise to take a tough approach to Pyongyang, which at the time was in the middle of a heated war of words with the United States.
While diplomatic relations with North Korea have warmed internationally since then, off the back of two summits in the first half of 2018, Japan doesn’t appear to be taking any chances.
“Military trends in North Korea pose an unprecedentedly serious and imminent threat to Japan’s security, and significantly damage the peace and security of the region and the international community,” Tuesday’s defense paper said.
The new defense budget comes at a time when relations between Beijing and Tokyo are at their warmest in years amid renewed bilateral ties and cooling disputes over territory.
In May, Chinese Premier Li Keqiang headed to Japan for a state visit, the first by a top Chinese leader in eight years.
“China’s rapid modernization of the People’s Liberation Army, enhancement of operational capabilities, and unilateral escalation of activities in areas close to Japan are generating strong security concerns in the region and international community, including Japan,” the defense paper said.
Abe is aiming to revise the Japanese Constitution by 2020 to redefine the role of the country’s military, potentially easing limitations on it during a crisis. This proposal is considered controversial in Japan.