National / Politics

Japan’s Defense Ministry eyes record defense budget amid North Korean and Chinese threats

Reuters

The Self-Defense Force wants record spending power next year to help pay for major upgrades to the nation’s defenses, as Tokyo continues to perceive a missile threat from North Korea despite Pyongyang’s promise to abandon nuclear weapons.

The Defense Ministry budget proposal released Friday calls for defense spending to rise 2.1 percent to ¥5.3 trillion ($48 billion) for the year starting April 1.

If approved it will be the seventh straight annual increase, as Prime Minister Shinzo Abe reinforces the Self-Defense Forces to respond to any North Korea missile strike and counter China’s growing air and sea power in the waters around Japan.

The proposed defense budget still has to face scrutiny by Finance Ministry officials who may seek to curtail any rise in military outlays to secure funds for the nation’s burgeoning health and welfare spending.

The biggest proposed outlay in the military budget will be on ballistic missile defense, with a request for ¥235 billion for two new powerful ground-based Aegis Ashore radar missile tracking stations built by Lockheed Martin Corp.

Japan’s military also wants funds to buy longer-range Raytheon Co. SM-3 interceptor missiles designed to strike enemy missiles in space, and money to improve the range and accuracy of its PAC-3 missiles batteries that are the last line of defense against incoming warheads.

Tokyo remains wary of North Korean promises to abandon its nuclear weapons and ballistic missile programs. The Defense Ministry said in a white paper published Tuesday that Pyongyang remained Japan’s “most serious and pressing threat.”

Other big buys include six Lockheed Martin F-35 stealth fighters for ¥91.6 billion and two E-2D Hawkeye early warning patrol planes built by Northrop Grumman. The Maritime Self Defense Force also wants funding to build two new destroyers and a submarine worth a combined ¥171 billion.

Purchases of American-made equipment could help Tokyo ease trade friction with Washington as U.S. President Donald Trump pushes Japan to buy more American goods, including military gear, while threatening to impose tariffs on Japanese auto imports to cut a trade imbalance with Tokyo.

The Defense Ministry’s latest budget request comes ahead of a possible meeting between Abe and Trump in September, when Japan’s leader is expected to attend the United Nations in New York.