Japan cabinet approves record military budget aiming at tighter spying co-op with US

© Issei Kato
Tensions are heating up in East Asia as Tokyo approves its biggest ever defense budget aimed at countering Chinese influence and enhancing Japan-US information, surveillance and reconnaissance cooperation in the region.

The country’s cabinet has approved the allocation of 5.05tn yen ($42.1 billion) on fortifying the country’s spying capabilities and endorsing proposals to buy US hardware to monitor Chinese territorial claims over the East China Sea islands, where Japan has a territorial dispute with its neighbor. The approval by the cabinet now needs the parliament’s consent.

Japanese defense ministry plans to buy three Global Hawk surveillance drones, six F-35 stealth fighters, 17 SH-60K naval patrol helicopters and four V-22 Osprey tilt rotor aircraft.

“We believe the budget includes items that would contribute to enhancing Japan-US cooperation in the area of ISR (information, surveillance and reconnaissance),” Defense Ministry official Tomoki Matsuo said.

The proposal is part of a 96.7 trillion yen ($800 billion) national budget plan for the year beginning April 2016.

The increased budget also includes funding for the planned relocation of a US military base on Okinawa island, which is facing heated opposition from the local population. For that purpose the government will spend 60bn yen next year ($500 mil).

China considers more than 80 percent of the South China Sea its sovereign territory. Its construction of seven artificial islands in the sea has raised tensions in a region with overlapping territorial and economic interests.

Reacting to the approval of Japan’s military spending, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Hong Lei urged Tokyo to “draw lessons from history, adhere to the path of peaceful development, and play a constructive role in safeguarding regional peace and stability.”

The Chinese defense policy is “defensive in nature,” he reiterated, and its military spending of some $130 billion is kept at “a reasonable level.”