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Japan invests in new military kit with 5% budget increase

TOKYO--Japan announced Tuesday it will buy stealth fighters, drones and submarines as part of a splurge on military hardware that will beef up defense of far-flung islands amid a territorial row with China.

The cabinet of hawkish Prime Minister Shinzo Abe agreed to spend 24.7 trillion yen (US$240 billion) between 2014 and 2019 in a strategic shift towards the south and west of the country — a five-percent boost to the military budget over five years.

The shopping list is part of efforts by Abe to normalize the military in Japan, which has been officially pacifist since defeat in World War II. Its well-equipped and highly professional services are limited to a narrowly defined self-defensive role.

It comes with the establishment of a U.S.-style National Security Council that is expected to concentrate greater power in the hands of a smaller number of senior politicians and bureaucrats.

Fears are growing in Japan over the rising power of China, with the two countries embroiled in a dispute over the sovereignty of a group of islands in the East China Sea, and the perennial threat posed by an unpredictable North Korea.

New guidelines approved by the cabinet on Tuesday said Tokyo will introduce a “dynamic joint defense force,” intended to help air, land and sea forces work together more effectively.

Abe said the shift would allow Japan's military to better shoulder its responsibilities on the global stage.

“We hope to make further contributions to the peace and stability of the international community through proactive pacifism,” he said. “This shows with transparency our country's diplomatic and defense policies.”

Boosting Southwest Posture

Defense program guidelines adopted Tuesday say Japan is “gravely concerned” about China's growing maritime and military presence in the East China Sea, and its lack of transparency and “high-handed” approach. Late last month, China said all aircraft entering a vast zone over the East China Seat must identify themselves and follow Chinese instructions.

While Japan's alliance with the U.S. remains the cornerstone of its defense, Japan also should seek increased security cooperation with South Korea, Australia, Southeast Asia and India, the guidelines say.

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said on a visit to Manila Tuesday that his country backed the newly announced re-armament plan, saying it had been planned with the United States beforehand.

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