Japan to supplement military spending in rush to bolster air and sea defences

·2 min read
Japanese PM Kishida holds news conference after big election win

By Tim Kelly

TOKYO (Reuters) - Japan plans to add $6.75 billion to its already record annual military spending in a rush to bolster air and maritime defences as it becomes more concerned about threats posed by China and North Korea.

Prime Minister Fumio Kishida's government on Friday approved the outlay as part of a supplementary budget. While such additions to defence spending are common, the 774 billion yen that lawmakers will be asked to approve is the largest amount ever, according to Japan's Ministry of Defence.

"As the security environment around Japan worsens at unprecedented speed, our urgent task is to accelerate the implementation of various projects," the defence ministry said in its spending proposal.

The cash injection will let Japan, three months earlier than planned, upgrade surface to air missile launchers on islands at the edge of the East China Sea and Patriot PAC-3 missile batteries elsewhere that are the last line of defence against any incoming North Korean warheads.

China's increasing pressure on Taiwan is causing jitters in Japan because Beijing's control of the island would bring Chinese forces within around 100 kilometres (62 miles) of its territory and would threaten key maritime trade routes that supply Japan with oil and other goods. It would also provide China with bases for unfettered access to the western Pacific.

The extra spending will also let Japan more quickly acquire anti-submarine missiles, maritime patrol planes and military cargo jets, the defence ministry said.

The additional military outlay comes after Kishida's ruling party in October included a goal of almost doubling defence spending to 2% of gross domestic product (GDP) in election pledges.

For decades the pacifist nation has stuck to a policy of keeping defence spending within 1% of GDP, easing concern both at home and overseas about any revival of the militarism that led Japan into World War Two.

The additional spending plan approved by Kishida's government on Friday also includes pre-payments to defence contractors for equipment to help them deal with coronavirus pandemic disruptions that have hurt their finances.

The proposed supplemental spending combined with defence outlays approved for the year to March 31 comes to about 1.3% of Japan's GDP.

($1 = 114.6300 yen)

(Reporting by Tim Kelly; Editing by Kim Coghill)

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