Japan's Defence Ministry seeks budget hike as tensions rise

Tokyo is also studying alternatives to the Aegis Ashore missile defence system. PHOTO: REUTERS

TOKYO - Japan's defence ministry sought a budget increase from Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga's government on Wednesday (Sept 30), to build and buy more aircraft and weaponry amid rising military tensions in the region.

If approved by the Cabinet, the 5.49 trillion yen (S$71 billion) sum for the fiscal year starting in April 2021 will mark the ninth straight annual rise. It will be a 3.3 per cent increase from the initial defence budget for this fiscal year.

Japan will also host a meeting next Tuesday of top diplomats from the other Quad nations - the United States, Australia and India - to discuss the Free and Open Indo-Pacific policy that was mooted to counterbalance China.

It is the first face-to-face high-level multilateral conference in Tokyo since the Covid-19 outbreak, and comes amid rising Chinese assertiveness in the region.

Hosted by Foreign Minister Toshimitsu Motegi, it will bring together US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, Australian Foreign Minister Marise Payne and Indian External Affairs Minister Subrahmanyam Jaishankar.

Mr Motegi, noting the "increasing value proposition" that the Free and Open Indo-Pacific brings to the region, told a news conference: "It is timely that foreign ministers from the four countries that share the same ambitions over regional matters exchange views over various challenges."

Mr Suga is also planning his first overseas visits since he took office, to Vietnam and Indonesia next month, Japanese media reported.

This echoes his predecessor Shinzo Abe, who had also visited the two countries first after taking office amid the Asean-centric focus.

Mr Suga's government is set to put together an updated defence plan by the end of this year, and will very likely approve a controversial plan for pre-emptive strikes on enemy bases if an attack is deemed to be imminent.

Tokyo is also studying alternatives to the Aegis Ashore missile defence system, which was scrapped in June over ballooning costs and safety and technical concerns.

As such, the Defence Ministry budget request on Wednesday does not include these potential costs, and may yet increase further.

Still, the 5.49 trillion yen plan includes substantial increases for defence against space, cyber and electromagnetic warfare.

It sought 123.7 billion yen - an increase of 18 per cent over this year - for outer space, including for feasibility studies on a constellation of small satellites for constant surveillance. Another 23 billion yen will be spent on surveillance against electromagnetic attacks.

It also intends to devote 35.7 billion yen to cyber security - a 50 per cent rise from this year - with plans to set up a new cyber-security unit within the Self-Defence Forces.

But the bulk of the sum will be for conventional weaponry, including 58.7 billion yen to research and develop a next-generation stealth fighter jet.

Another 66.6 billion yen will be spent on four F-35A fighter aircraft and two vertical take-off F-35B jets.

Japan plans to spend 69.1 billion yen to build a submarine, as well as 15.3 billion yen to develop an anti-aircraft jammer and 3.3 billion yen to test an anti-drone laser weapon.

But Kobe University security expert Tosh Minohara thinks that the requested budget increase is "not nearly enough".

This is because Japan, which spent just 0.9 per cent of its gross domestic product on defence last year, still falls short of expectations that 2 per cent be spent on defence.

He said: "This is not China against Japan, but against the world with shared values. And this is only as strong as the sum of the parts."

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