TOKYO: Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s cabinet on Thursday approved Japan’s biggest ever annual defence budget, as the country bolsters its military amid territorial rows and concerns over China’s expanding naval reach.
The cabinet approved 5.05 trillion yen ($41.8bn) in defence spending for the next fiscal year starting in April, with the focus on strengthening protection of a string of southern islands, including Okinawa, that stretch from Japan’s mainland to waters near Taiwan.
The allocation is part of a record 96.7 trillion yen national budget that will now be sent to parliament for debate and approval early next year.
The defence budget is 1.5 per cent higher than the current fiscal year which was the previous record high, and marks the fourth straight annual increase in spending.
The trend reflects the hawkish Abe’s attempt to build a military more active and collaborative with the United States, its biggest ally.
“We expect the latest procurement would contribute further to cooperation between Japan and the United States,” a defence ministry official told reporters.
Japan is also wary of a possible escalation of tensions with China, where steady hikes in defence spending have raised concerns in Tokyo and Washington.
China’s navy, air force and coast guard have increased activity in waters near Japan in recent years as Beijing seeks to more actively project its growing military power in the region and back up its claim in a territorial dispute with Tokyo over a group of uninhabited islands in the East China Sea.