Japan’s government has approved a record defence budget, with money earmarked for costly missile defence systems.
The missile defence systems, controversially, could be used in pre-emptive strikes against North Korea.
The $46 billion budget, up 1.3 per cent from last year, is the largest ever and marks the six straight annual rise in defence spending under Japan’s conservative prime minister, Shinzo Abe.
Abe, who ended a decade of defence cuts soon after becoming prime minister in late 2012, has described the threat posed by North Korean ballistic missiles as a “national crisis”.
The regime has launched two missiles over northern Japan this year, and several others have landed inside its 200 nautical-mile exclusive economic zone.
In September, North Korea threatened to “sink Japan into the sea” with a nuclear bomb after Tokyo and Washington spearheaded a new round of UN security council sanctions against the regime.
Defence officials say Japan needs to drastically and quickly upgrade its missile defence in response to Pyongyang’s rapid development of long-range missiles and nuclear weapons.
The defence minister, Itsunori Onodera, said this month: “At a time when North Korea is beefing up its ballistic missile capability, we need to strengthen our capability fundamentally.”
The new budget, which has to be approved by parliament, came days after Japan said it would buy land-based Aegis Ashore missile defence systems from the US to improve its ability to locate and destroy incoming North Korean missiles.
About $6.4 million was set aside to prepare for the introduction of the systems, which will be operational by 2023 and are expected to cost at least $1.76 billion.