By Sakura Murakami
TOKYO - Japan's defence ministry on Thursday asked for a record 7.7 trillion yen ($52.67 billion) in spending for the 2024 fiscal year, the latest step of Prime Minister Fumio Kishida's plan to boost military spending by 43 trillion yen over five years.
The plan, announced last year, seeks to double defence spending to 2% of gross domestic product by 2027 as it faces an increasingly assertive China and an unpredictable North Korea.
The request comes as Japan's relations with China have deteriorated sharply. Japan last week began to dump treated radioactive water from its wrecked Fukushima nuclear plant into the sea; China condemned the move, banning Japanese seafood imports.
The fiscal 2024 request, submitted to the Ministry of Finance, adds almost a trillion yen to the previous year's budget of 6.8 trillion yen, an increase of about 13%. If approved, the budget will have increased spending by about a trillion yen from the previous year for an unprecedented two consecutive years.
The defence ministry plans to set aside more than 900 billion yen for ammunition and weapons, including new ship-based air-defence missiles, according to the budget request.
Some 600 billion yen will be used to strengthen logistics capabilities to deploy weapons and resources to southwest island chains during an emergency.
The budget includes funding for three new landing ships, for a total of 17 billion yen, more than 300 billion yen for 17 transport helicopters, and a new specialised transport team to improve deployment capabilities, the defence ministry said in its request.
Japan will also put 75 billion yen towards jointly developing interceptor missiles with the United States to counter hypersonic warheads, and 64 billion yen for building next-generation fighter jets with Britain and Italy.
The record defence spending by the staunch U.S. ally comes after decades of pacifist policies. The United States in 1947 imposed a constitution on Japan that renounces war.
But concerns over China's maritime ambitions and military assertiveness, especially over Taiwan, and a belligerent and increasingly well armed North Korea have shifted thinking, as has Russia's invasion of Ukraine.
Japanese aggression before and during World War Two is still a cause of tension in relations with some countries in Asia. Japan has given assurances its growing military strength will not be used to threaten others.
Japan has said it will still prioritise diplomatic efforts and dialogue to avert misunderstandings.