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Japan eyes defence budget increase


TOKYO (AFP): Japan's defence ministry is looking for its biggest budget hike in two decades, partly to create a Marines-like force, it has revealed, as neighbours fret about Tokyo's rising assertiveness.

Military bosses want more than USD 49 billion-- three per cent up on last year -- with much of their focus on safeguarding remote islands, as a sovereignty row with China refuses to fade.

The move mirrors Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's policy of a more assertive diplomacy and a more active military.

Tokyo and Beijing have repeatedly butted heads over the ownership of the Tokyo-controlled islands called the Senkakus, which Beijing claims as the Diaoyus, with official Chinese ships and aircraft regularly testing Japanese forces.

Abe has long voiced worries over defence at a time when China is increasing its naval activities in waters around Japan, and as unpredictable North Korea continues its missile and nuclear programmes.

He has also called for a stronger military alliance with the United States, which is in the process of a re-balancing of its forces under President Barack Obama's so-called "pivot" to Asia.

China and South Korea -- victims of Japan's military misadventures in the first half of the 20th century -- have expressed unease in recent months about noises in Tokyo towards bolstering its military.

The budget request for fiscal 2014, which will begin April, represents a three-percent spending increase, making a second-straight annual increase after a 0.8-per cent rise in the initial budget for the current fiscal year to March 2014.

If approved, it would mark the largest rise since fiscal 1992.

Under the request, the ministry plans to create a special amphibious unit designed to protect the southern islands and to take them back in case of enemy invasion.

It would spend 1.3 billion yen to buy two amphibious assault vehicles and increase participation in US-led training programmes with the US Marines.

The Marines are generally regarded as an offensive force, while Japan's constitution bars it from taking hostile acts and limits the role of its already well-equipped armed forces to that of defence.

The air defence force would create a new early-warning unit also in the southern region with radar-capable planes.

The ministry will conduct a full study on future purchases of Osprey tilt-rotor aircraft that can takeoff vertically like a helicopter.

Among big ticket items, the navy wants to buy a 73.3-billion-yen destroyer, a 51.3-billion-yen submarine, and a 50.8-billion-yen submarine rescue ship.

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