Japan to raise military spending as China row simmers

Japan said on Tuesday it intends to boost military spending by five per cent over the next five years, with a hardware splurge intended to beef up defence of far-flung territories amid a corrosive row with China.

Tokyo: Japan announced on Tuesday it will buy stealth fighters, drones and submarines as part of a splurge on military hardware that will beef up defence of far-flung islands amid a territorial row with China.

The cabinet of hawkish Prime Minister Shinzo Abe agreed to spend USD 240 billion between 2014 and 2019 in a strategic shift towards the south and west of the country -- a five percent boost to the military budget over five years.

The shopping list is part of efforts by Abe to upgrade the military in Japan, which has been officially pacifist since defeat in World War II. Its well-equipped and highly professional services are limited to a narrowly defined self-defensive role.

"Can we really protect the lives of citizens and our state simply by (exercising) the right to individual self-defense?" Abe asked rhetorically at a meeting of a government panel of security experts today, Kyodo news agency reported.

The large-scale spending on military hardware comes as Japan establishes a US-style National Security Council that is expected to concentrate greater power in the hands of a smaller number of senior politicians and bureaucrats.

Fears are growing in Japan over the rising power of China, with the two countries embroiled in a dispute over the sovereignty of a group of islands in the East China Sea, and the perennial threat posed by an unpredictable North Korea.

The new guidelines approved by the cabinet today call for Japan to boost its missile defence system to counter "a grave and imminent threat" from North Korea.

Pyongyang conducted its third nuclear test in February, following a rocket test in December 2012.

The guidelines also demand a "dynamic joint defence force", intended to help air, land and sea forces work together more effectively.

Abe said the shift would allow Japan`s military to better shoulder its responsibilities on the global stage.

"We hope to make further contributions to the peace and stability of the international community through proactive pacifism," he said. "This shows with transparency our country`s diplomatic and defence policies."

US Secretary of State John Kerry said on a visit to Manila today that his country backed the newly-announced re-armament plan, saying it had been planned with the United States beforehand.

"Japan has the ability to play a more modern, engaged role (in the region). This is something we have been working on, and they have been planning for some period of time," he told reporters.