Japan Cabinet OKs More Defense Funds Amid Potential Threats

TOKYO (AP) -- Japan's Cabinet approved a ninth straight increase in the nation's defense budget as the government bolsters funding to develop longer-range cruise missiles and stealth fighters to counter potential threats from China and North Korea.

The record 5.34 trillion yen ($51.7 billion) defense budget planned for fiscal 2021 is the first under Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga and is a 1.1% increase over the current year's budget. It is set for parliamentary approval early next year as part of a 106 trillion yen ($1.03 trillion) national budget totaling for the fiscal year beginning in April.

A large chunk of the budget plan goes to reinforce Japan's missile capability, including 33.5 billion yen ($324 million) to develop extended-range anti-ship missiles that can be fired from destroyers or fighter jets, as well as 14.9 billion yen ($144 million) to purchase JSM extended-range missiles loaded on F-35 stealth fighters.

That's part of Japan's new missile deterrence plan adopted by Suga's Cabinet last Friday that would allow Japan to expand missile deployment in areas including islands it controls in the East China Sea that are also claimed by Beijing.

Suga's government is carrying on the priorities of his predecessor, Shinzo Abe, a military hawk. Under Abe's nearly eight-year tenure, Japan expanded its military's international role amid a growing perceived threat from China and North Korea.

Tokyo has repeatedly called the two neighbors threats to regional security and has studied the possibility of developing a first-strike capability against enemy bases to defend against imminent attacks.

Under Abe's leadership, Japan also has increased its purchases of expensive American stealth fighters such as F-35s and missile defense systems as its Self Defense Force increasingly operated alongside American troops. Abe in 2015 reinterpreted Japan's pacifist constitution to allow the use of force in defending itself and its allies.

For fiscal 2021, Japan will spend 65 billion yen ($630 million) to purchase two F-35Bs and four F-35As as part of the country's plan to have more than 150 F-35s.

Japan is also placing advanced Aegis radar systems on two new destroyers to reinforce missile defenses after scrapping plans to build land-based Aegis systems due to technical problems.

The 2021 budget would also spend 731 billion yen ($700 million) to develop Japan's own next-generation F-X stealth fighter to replace its aging fleet of F-2s.

Defense Minister Nobuo Kishi said Friday that Japan chose Lockheed Martin as a main candidate to provide integration support for increased interoperability with the U.S. and work with Japan's main contractor Mitsubishi Heavy Industries.

The Defense Ministry is currently negotiating with the U.S. and Britain for cooperation in engine and electronics production.

Japan's defense spending now ranks among the world's top 10, according to Stockholm International Peace Research Institute.