Japan sets defence budget rise amid ugly islands dispute with China

TOKYO (REUTERS) - Japan is planning to increase its defence budget this year for the first time in 11 years, the Defence Ministry's revised budget request showed on Friday, amid a bitter territorial dispute with China.

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe led his Liberal Democratic Party to a landslide victory last month, promising to beef up the military and stand tough in a row with China over East China Sea islets claimed by both sides.

"Our stance that we will adamantly protect our waters and territories has not changed at all. As I said before, there is no room for negotiations," Mr Abe told reporters after the government approved US$117 billion (S$141 billion) of spending to revive the economy.

The latest request is made up of 4.65 trillion yen (S$64 billion) in budget appropriations for the year starting on April 1, flat from the current fiscal year's initial budget, and a group of last-minute items for which costs have yet to be determined.

However, those items, such as an unspecified rise in the number of soldiers and fuel and maintenance costs for the increased use of surveillance planes, will likely exceed 100 billion yen, the ministry said.

In its initial budget request for the next fiscal year, submitted under the previous Democratic Party government, the ministry asked for 4.59 trillion yen, down 1.3 per cent on the year, reflecting the constraints of Japan's huge public debt.

That would have been the biggest percentage drop in Japan's defence budget in more than half a century.

The revised budget request is expected to be approved by the Cabinet, perhaps with minor cuts requested by the Finance Ministry.

In a separate 13.1 trillion yen extra budget for the current fiscal year due to be approved by the cabinet, the ministry will also be allocated 212 billion yen to boost communications, transport and missile defence capability.

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