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Stealth fighters and long-range missiles: Japan’s cabinet greenlights record-breaking military budget

Japan’s cabinet approved on Monday the record-high $1.03 trillion budget proposal for the next fiscal year starting in April 2021. The package includes a stimulus for the economy which has been severely affected by the coronavirus pandemic and a hike in defense spending.

The military will receive $51.7 billion for new planes, missiles and aircraft carriers with greater range and power. “We will strengthen the capacity necessary for national defense… in order to keep pace with the security environment which is becoming increasingly tough,” said Chief Cabinet Secretary Katsunobu Kato at a briefing.

Some of the money will fund the development of long-range cruise missiles and warships, as well as an advanced stealth fighter jet by Mitsubishi Heavy Industries Ltd. with help from Lockheed Martin Corp. Six Lockheed stealth fighters will also be purchased.

The proposal still has to be approved by parliament, where Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga’s ruling Liberal Democratic Party has a large majority.

Suga is continuing the policy of military expansion that was pursued by his predecessor, Shinzo Abe. In its latest annual defense report released in July the Japanese government highlighted what it called “potential Chinese and North Korean threats.”

Japan has a long-running territorial dispute with China over small uninhabited islands in the East China Sea. Both states claim ownership of the islets and coastguard vessels from both countries often confront each other in the waters surrounding them.

China regularly holds military exercises in the area with the latest series of drills taking place in September. One of the five exercises was held in the East China Sea, where the disputed islands are located. Japan’s Defense Minister Taro Kono said at the time that China poses a “security threat” to Japan.

Japan’s constitution formally denounces war as a means of settling international disputes and prohibits the country from having an army. Article 9 states that “land, sea and air forces, as well as other war potential, will never be maintained.” Instead, after World War II Japan’s de facto army was called the Self-Defense Forces. The country has a bilateral security alliance with the US, which means there is heavy American military presence on the Japanese isles. The country hosts some 90 US military facilities and over 50,000 troops.

The hike in defense spending comes as Japan is struggling to keep the economy on track due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Recent figures suggest that the Japanese economy suffered its worst contraction since World War II. Earlier this year it unveiled a series of stimulus packages to help businesses survive the pandemic.

Japan also has the largest debt in the industrial world – twice the size of its $5 trillion economy.

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