Japan’s Defense Ministry Seeks Record Budget Amid China Dispute

Japan’s Defense Ministry is seeking a record budget of 5.5 trillion yen ($53 billion) for the year starting April as it seeks to bolster defense of remote islands amid a territorial dispute with China.

Japan will buy 20 P-1 aircraft to patrol seas around its coast, improving on the speed, tracking and attack capabilities of existing P-3C planes, according to documents released today. Funds will also go toward the purchase of land on the Amami islands between Okinawa and Kyushu for another military base. The request is inflated by the cost of replacing two official planes used by the emperor and prime minister.

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe raised the defense budget for the first time in 11 years in 2013 as Chinese and Japanese ships and planes tailed one another around islands claimed by both nations. A strengthening of Japan’s military capabilities may draw criticism from neighboring nations, with Abe having lifted an effective ban on defense exports and reinterpreted the constitution to allow Japan to defend other countries.

“If Japan obtains the equipment it needs for the future stability of East Asia, this will send a message,” former Defense Minister Yuriko Koike said in an interview before the budget request was released. “I think it’s necessary.”

The Japan Coast Guard is also seeking to double its budget in the next fiscal year to 50.4 billion yen, Kyodo news reported on Aug. 27. The coast guard wants three more jets and four more patrol vessels, as well as improvements to a port on the island of Ishigaki, close to the disputed islands known as Senkaku in Japanese and Diaoyu in Chinese.

U.S. Bases

The defense ministry’s record request is up 3.5 percent from the current year’s budget, and includes funds earmarked for easing the burden of hosting U.S. bases in Okinawa and the cost of shifting U.S. troops to Guam under an accord reached in 2006. The request is not the highest-ever if these items are stripped out, though the amount would still be 2.4 percent higher.

The replacement of the two aging official planes, in service since 1991, will also contribute 54.2 billion yen to planned spending. Budget requests are generally trimmed by the finance ministry ahead of approval.

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