Ministry petitions 38 bn to address a surge in Chinese naval activity and North Koreas nuclear weapons programme

Japans defense ministry has requested a record budget to counter growing Chinese military activity around a group of disputed islands in the East China Sea.

The ministry is trying 5.17 trillion yen( 38 bn) for the year beginning in April 2017. That marks an increase of 2.3% from last year, and is the fifth annual increase since Japans prime minister, Shinzo Abe, came to power in late 2012 vowing to bolster the military to address a surge in Chinese naval activity and North Koreas nuclear weapons programme.

The latest budget petition marks a continuation in the shift in focus away from Japans northern maritime border with Russia where cold war Soviet forces once posed a threat to an 870 -mile chain of southern outlying islands stretching from the Japanese mainland towards Taiwan.

Much of the hardware on the defence ministrys shopping list is designed to counter potential threats to Japanese territory in the East China Sea, including the disputed Senkaku islands, which are also claimed by Beijing.

At the heart of the strategy is the development of a mobile amphibious force modelled on the US marine corps that would be able to respond quickly to an attempt to invade the Senkakus, which China refers to as Diaoyu.

In the single biggest outlay, government ministries wants more than 100 bn yen to upgrade Japans Patriot Advanced Capability( PAC-3) weapons, seen as the last line of defence against a nuclear or conventional attack by North Korea.

The sense of importance in Tokyo over missile defence is growing amid evidence that North Korea is making progress in its attempts to build dependable ballistic missiles capable of reaching Japan, including those launched from submarines.

The improvements will dramatically enhance the PAC-3s scope and its ability to target incoming missiles.

The Senkakus are surrounded by rich fishing grounds and potentially huge oil and gas deposits. The uninhabited islets are administered by Japan, but Chinese boats have stepped up incursions into waters near the territories in recent months.

Japanese
Japanese ground self-defence troops during live-fire educate. Photograph: Aflo/ Barcroft

To improve Japans they are able to patrol the islands, ministry officials want to spend 95 bn yen on six Lockheed Martin F-3 5 stealth fighters, as well as more than 90 bn yen on four Bell-Boeing V-2 2 Osprey tilt-rotor aircraft and six Boeing Chinook twin-rotor helicopters.

Incursions by Chinese aircrafts into Japanese airspace near the Senkakus were met with a record number of scrambles by Japanese fighter planes between April and June, while Tokyo continued to resist Beijings requests for talks on the dispute.

This month, the Japanese foreign minister, Fumio Kishida, summoned Chinas ambassador in Tokyo, Cheng Yonghua, to protest against Chinese maritime activity in the area, saying it had contributed to a marked deterioration in Sino-Japanese ties.

Last week, however, Kishida and his Chinese counterpart, Wang Yi, concurred it was important to establish lines of communication to avoid accidents near the Senkakus that could speedily intensify into a conflict.

We reached a common recognition that we have to control friction at sea securely through the efforts of both countries, Wang told reporters during a trilateral summit in Tokyo that also included South Koreas foreign minister.

As a prominent member of a group of conservative legislators who believe the postwar constraints imposed on Japans military are unfair and out of date, Abe wants the countrys self-defence forces to play a bigger international role that includes possible involvement in overseas conflicts.

Last summer, his governing alliance pushed through controversial security legislation that reinterpreted Japans war-renouncing constitution to allow the armed forces to exert its right to collective self-defence or coming to the aid of an ally for the first time since the end of the second world war.

Despite the broader scope afforded Japanese troops by the new laws, speculation is mounting that Abe, whose coalition dominates both houses of parliament, will attempt to trench article 9 of the US-authored constitution, which curtails Japans military to a strictly defensive role.

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