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Politics

Japan targets record defense spending in new 5-year plan

$240bn program shows readiness to increase US arms buying

A man stares at a model F-35 fighter jet. Japan wants to counter China and close its trade deficit with the U.S. by purchasing more advanced equipment like the F-35.   © Reuters

TOKYO -- Japan looks to expand its defense spending to a record 27 trillion yen ($240 billion) over five years through fiscal 2023 as it confronts both security challenges and trade tensions with the U.S.

The proposed spending responds to China's military buildup and seeks to reduce Japan's trade surplus with the U.S. -- which has drawn criticism from President Donald Trump -- through additional purchases of American equipment.

Beijing continues to militarize the South China Sea, while the future of North Korea's nuclear and missile programs remains unpredictable despite a lull in tensions.

The spending would grow an average of 1.1% per year, outpacing the 0.8% growth over the five years through fiscal 2018.

Japan's current five-year defense program calls for total spending of 24.7 trillion yen. The cabinet aims to approve the new program in mid-December.

Japan's proposed defense program also will make it easier to buy cutting-edge equipment from the U.S. Payments on previously purchased equipment and personnel expenses comprise 80% of current defense spending, squeezing funds for new items. The new framework will separate these purchases from existing expenses.

Tokyo has kept defense spending within 1% of gross domestic product over concern about criticism that it is expanding its military. The fiscal 2023 outlay under the proposed five-year plan is expected to stay below that figure despite average growth of 1.1% per year.

But unlike past plans, this five-year program also makes calculations based on NATO standards, which include military pensions and other items outside the Defense Ministry's jurisdiction that could inflate spending figures.

Japan's defense spending in fiscal 2018 totaled about 0.9% of GDP but rises to around 1.2% under NATO standards. The five-year program through fiscal 2023 could swell by over 10 trillion yen if NATO methods are used. This is part of Japan's strategy to appeal to Trump by providing him a greater picture of its defense equipment purchases.

Defense outlays under the five-year plan are calculated from spending overseen by the Defense Ministry, minus the costs for realigning U.S. forces in Japan.

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