The budget approved by Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s cabinet increases military spending to a record level, reflecting Mr. Abe’s desire to bolster the defense of outlying islands that are at the heart of a territorial dispute with China.
Military spending in the year beginning April 2016 is set to rise 1.5% to ¥5.05 trillion ($41.8 billion), which is the first time the figure has topped the ¥5 trillion mark and the fourth straight increase since Mr. Abe took office in December 2012.
Among the items on the defense ministry’s shopping list are F-35 jet fighters, assault amphibious vehicles, V-22 Osprey transport aircraft and wheeled armored fighting vehicles with tank guns, which are easier to deploy to far-flung islands than conventional battle tanks.
The nations’ in Asia have a collective defense spending of $435 billion in 2015 and this will increase to around $533 billion by 2020, meaning the region would account for a third of entire global military spending within the next five years.
Asia Pacific countries are embroiled in a slew of territorial spats, particularly over the South China Sea (SCS), a key waterway through which over $5 trillion of global maritime trade passes every year.
Japan’s role in the dispute
While Japan is not a South China Sea littoral state and is not party to the territorial disputes over the Paracel and Spratly Islands, Tokyo views the issue as extremely important to its national security. This is because a large proportion of the country’s trade passes through the SCS, including all of the vital energy resources that Japan imports from the Middle East.
Due to the importance that Japan attributes to the area, Tokyo has sought to support efforts to oppose the establishment of Chinese hegemony over the area. “This has resulted in Japan significantly weakening its long-standing restrictions of arms sales and also taking the controversial step of reinterpreting the Constitution to permit the use of military force in a wider range of circumstances,” said Japan expert Brown.
China has been raising its defense budget at double-digit rates, and it often sends ships to the waters near the disputed islands.
Late last month, Chinese H-6K bombers staged one of their longer missions in recent memory. Flying through the Miyako Straits northeast of Taiwan, the bombers proceeded into the central Pacific, to a point 1,000 kilometers (620 miles) from the Ryukyu island chain (stretching from the Japanese Home Islands past Okinawa towards Taiwan). As important, they reached a point less than 1,000 miles from Guam.
These actions reflect an ongoing effort on the part of both the PLA Air Force (PLAAF) and the PLA Navy’s Naval Aviation force to expand their operational envelope.
Chinese Naval Aviation, the aerial branch of the PLA Navy, has also been expanding its operations, complementing the modernization and expanded capabilities of the Chinese navy. As Chinese warships have begun to operate beyond the first island chain, they are also undertaking expanded combined arms operations. Air and sub-surface forces now operate alongside the various modern combatants that the PLAN can now field.