Japan seeks biggest-ever defense budget amid China concerns

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TOKYO (AP) — Japan's Defense Ministry wants to buy an advanced Aegis radar-equipped destroyer and more F-35 fighters under its largest-ever budget to bolster the defense of southern islands amid a territorial dispute with China.

The ministry endorsed a 5.1 trillion yen ($42 billion) budget request Monday for the year beginning next April, up 2.2 percent from this year. It would be the fourth annual increase under Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, who took office in December 2012 and ended 10 years of defense budget cuts.

Monday was the deadline for all ministries to submit budget requests to the Finance Ministry. The total budget requests for fiscal 2016 exceeded 102 trillion yen ($840 billion), also a record high, according to public broadcaster NHK. The defense budget was the third largest after those from the health and welfare ministry and the transportation ministry, it said.

Abe's government says Japan needs to bolster its military role amid China's growing territorial assertiveness and the rising risk of terrorist attacks. Parliament is expected to approve a set of contentious bills to expand Japan's military role by late September.

The budget increase results largely from proposed purchases of new equipment, including 17 surveillance helicopters, six F-35 fighters and three advanced "Global Hawk" drones. The construction of a Soryu-class submarine is also planned to bolster island defense and surveillance.

Soryu submarines are among the world's largest, and Japan hopes to sell some to Australia to replace the country's fleet of aging Collins-class submarines.

The budget request also includes the cost of planned new troop deployments on two southern islands, Amami Oshima and Miyako.

The ministry also requested funds to enhance information gathering by posting intelligence officials in three new locations, Jordan, United Arab Emirates and Mongolia.

The requests are based on new defense guidelines allowing Japan's military a larger role amid tensions over China's growing military might.

To step up the safety of Japanese citizens overseas, the Foreign Ministry requested 470.5 billion yen ($3.9 billion) as part of the country's official development assistance, Kyodo News reported. The money also goes to government publicity.

The budget is to be formally drafted into a bill in December that will be submitted to parliament for approval.

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