(Nikkei: January 15, 2015 – p. 4)
The Japanese cabinet on Wednesday approved a budget proposal that includes the biggest defense spending ever, reflecting Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s ambitions for expanded military capabilities to fend off an increasingly assertive China.
Defense outlays will rise 2% from the previous fiscal year to 4.98 trillion yen ($41.9 billion), up for the third year in a row. The figure surpasses 5 trillion yen when the roughly 95 billion yen in defense expenditures earmarked in the supplementary budget is included.
Campaigning in last year’s Lower House election, Abe repeatedly stressed the need to defend Japanese sovereignty and territory. The draft budget includes funding to create a Self-Defense Forces (SDF) unit tasked with retaking remote islands — apparently envisioning the disputed Senkaku Islands, which China calls the Diaoyu and claims as its own. Plans call for introducing five Osprey transport planes, capable of vertical takeoffs and landings, and 30 amphibious vehicles to strengthen the SDF’s ability to deploy personnel to remote islands. Twenty domestically produced P-1 patrol planes and six F-35 state-of-the-art stealth fighters will be purchased to ramp up surveillance.
The Japan Coast Guard (JCG) will get a significantly bigger budget. Its expenditures, including maintenance of patrol ships and aircraft, will surge 52% to 37.1 billion yen. To strengthen guarding of the Senkakus, the agency will launch six large patrol ships now under construction, completing a force totaling 12 vessels and roughly 600 personnel that will monitor the islands around the clock.
With a possible U.S. visit this spring on his schedule, Abe ensured that the budget reflects his intention of accelerating the reorganization of U.S. Forces Japan (USFJ). In Okinawa Prefecture, land reclamation work off the coast of Henoko is slated to begin as early as summer as part of the planned relocation of the U.S. military’s Futenma Air Station. Costs related to USFJ realignment, including the Futenma base relocation, will grow about 60% to 142.6 billion yen.
The central government will pay 1.8 billion yen to Yamaguchi Prefecture in line with the reorganization of U.S. forces, the prefecture’s first such grant. Yamaguchi helped ease the burden on Okinawa when 15 tanker planes were transferred to a U.S. base there from Futenma.
Meanwhile, Okinawa, whose new governor opposes relocating the Futenma base to Henoko, will receive a smaller development budget for the first time in five years. It was an unmistakable message from Abe demanding the prefecture’s cooperation. Gov. Takeshi Onaga on Wednesday visited the prime minister’s office for the first time since taking office, but neither Abe nor Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga met with him.
Japan will also step up efforts to sway global opinion in disputes with China and South Korea over history, including territorial matters and the issue of wartime “comfort women.” A total of 50 billion yen has been earmarked for presenting the Japanese view abroad, including the 30.5 billion yen already in the fiscal 2014 supplementary budget proposal.
And 1.6 billion yen has been set aside for dealing with the abductions of Japanese nationals by North Korea decades ago, up 360 million yen from the previous fiscal year. Spending to support abductees returned to Japan and their families was increased by 290 million yen in case Pyongyang makes progress in its promised reinvestigation.
Main features of Abe’s proposed defense budget
· Increase in defense spending for three consecutive years to a record 4.98 trillion yen
· 50% increase in JCG budget to reinforce security of territorial waters near the Nansei Islands and elsewhere
· Modulated assistance to local governments to promote cooperation with USFJ realignment
· Reduction of untied subsidies in the Okinawa economic development budget to put pressure on anti-relocation governor
· Increase in public diplomacy budget to counter China’s and the ROK’s PR warfare against Japan
· Increase in assistance to abduction victims in anticipation of progress in the abduction issue.
[Translated by Nikkei/edited by MATT]