TOKYO: Japan’s defense ministry said on Thursday it will request its largest-ever annual budget, just days after nuclear-armed North Korea fired a rocket over the country in a provocation that drew global condemnation.
The ministry announced it is asking for 5.26 trillion yen ($47.9 billion) for the fiscal year through March 2019 to beef up its missile defense.
That follows on five straight years of budgetary increases as territorial tensions with China also aggravate Japan’s security concerns.
The current proposal calls for spending on new SM-3 Block IIA interceptors—developed jointly with the US—to counter potential attacks by simultaneous missile launches, as well as a next-generation early-warning and radar system.
Adopting a land-based Aegis missile defense scheme to complement Japan’s sea-based system is also included in the multi-billion-dollar budget request.
The proposal comes two days after the North fired a ballistic missile over Japan.
Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe—who has been pushing to expand the role of his pacifist country’s Self-Defense Forces—denounced the launch as an “unprecedented, serious and grave threat.”
He agreed with US President Donald Trump to increase pressure on North Korea—which has so far been mainly through sanctions—to abandon its nuclear weapon and missile development programs.
The two leaders had a telephone call early Thursday, their second this week, while Japanese Defense Minister Itsunori Onodera spoke with his US counterpart Jim Mattis.
Japan is closely allied with the US on security issues and hosts American bases and tens of thousands of troops on its territory, which North Korea considers a threat.
The North’s official KCNA news agency decried Japan in a commentary late Wednesday, saying the allies’ “military nexus” had become a “serious threat” to the Korean peninsula and Japan was “accelerating self-destruction.”
Top security meeting
British Prime Minister Theresa May was attending Japan’s top security meeting Thursday, officials said.
May, who is in Japan on an official visit, is reportedly just the second foreign leader to attend a meeting of the National Security Council after Australia’s then-prime minister Tony Abbott in 2014.
Japan’s top government spokesman Yoshihide Suga said her attendance at the meeting underscored the two countries’ close ties, after May this week said she was “outraged” by Pyongyang’s provocative missile launch.
“It is significant that Prime Minister May was invited to [Japan’s] top decision-making meeting for security and diplomacy,” Suga told reporters in Tokyo.
The Council, which was created at the end of 2013, consists of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and key ministers.
Britain wants new UN sanctions against North Korea that would target guest workers sent mostly to Russia and China, and whose wages are a source of revenue for Pyongyang.
The UN Security Council on Tuesday unanimously condemned North Korea over the launch of the missile, which flew over Japanese territory before crashing into the Pacific.
Early Thursday, May visited a US naval base on the outskirts of Tokyo with Japanese Defence Minister Itsunori Onodera before attending a business forum.
“We have a long history of cooperation in these areas,” May said.
“And by the visit today it gives a sign of the growing cooperation and partnership that we have on defense.”
May arrived in Japan Wednesday with an eye to soothing Brexit fears and pushing ahead on early free-trade talks with the world’s number three economy.
She will hold a joint press conference with Abe later Thursday and meet Emperor Akihito on Friday before leaving.
At an informal dinner meeting in Kyoto on Wednesday, Abe and May reconfirmed their cooperation in pressuring North Korea to abandon its nuclear weapons ambitions while asking for China to play a greater role on the issue, according to a foreign ministry statement.
Earlier this year, Britain and Japan signed a defense logistics treaty that allows both country’s forces to share equipment, facilities and services.
Boosting East China Sea presence
Japan’s latest defense budget proposal also asks for money to buy a half dozen F-35 stealth fighters, a pair of frigate ships and high-tech gadgetry to protect remote southern isles in waters where China has shown its expanding naval ambitions.
The uninhabited islets in the East China Sea are administered by Japan, which calls them the Senkakus, but are also claimed by China which refers to them as the Diaoyus.
Japan has been boosting defense ties with the Philippines and other Southeast Asian nations, some of which have their own disputes with Beijing in the South China Sea.
The previous year’s defense budget amount was 5.13 trillion yen, meaning the current request is for a 2.5 percent rise.