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Japan Cabinet OKs more defense funds amid potential threats

TOKYO (AP):  Japan's Cabinet approved a ninth straight increase in the nation's defense budget as the government bolsters funding to develop longer-range cruise missiles and stealth fighters to counter potential threats from China and North Korea.

The record 5.34 trillion yen (USD 51.7 billion) defense budget planned for fiscal 2021 is the first under Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga and is a 1.1 per cent increase over the current year's budget.

It is set for parliamentary approval early next year as part of a 106 trillion yen (USD 1.03 trillion) national budget totaling for the fiscal year beginning in April.

The budget plan includes the costs to develop extended-range missiles that can be fired from destroyers or fighter jets, defense ministry officials said.

That's part of Japan's new missile deterrence plan adopted by Suga's Cabinet last Friday that would allow Japan to expand missile deployment in areas including islands it controls in the East China Sea that are also claimed by Beijing.

Suga's government is carrying on the priorities of his predecessor, Shinzo Abe, a military hawk.

Under Abe's nearly eight-year tenure, Japan expanded its military's international role amid a growing perceived threat from China and North Korea.

Tokyo has repeatedly called the two neighbours threats to regional security and has studied the possibility of developing a first-strike capability against enemy bases to defend against imminent attacks.

Under Abe's leadership, Japan also has increased its purchases of expensive American stealth fighters such as F-35s and missile defense systems as its Self Defense Force increasingly operated alongside American troops.

Japan is also placing advanced Aegis radar systems on two new destroyers to reinforce missile defenses after scrapping plans to build land-based Aegis systems due to technical problems.

The 2021 budget would also spend 731 billion yen (USD 700 million) to develop Japan's own next-generation F-X stealth fighter to replace its aging fleet of F-2s.

Defense Minister Nobuo Kishi said Friday that Japan chose Lockheed Martin as a main candidate to provide integration support for increased interoperability with the US and work with Japan's main contractor Mitsubishi Heavy Industries.

The Defense Ministry is currently negotiating with the US and Britain for cooperation in engine and electronics production.

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