Japan to boost coast guard to defend East China Sea islands

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TOKYO (AP) — Japan's government announced Wednesday that it will bolster its coast guard capabilities to defend East China Sea islands that China also claims and regularly patrols.

Japan controls the uninhabited islands, and Wednesday's decision by Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and others would let Japan add to its maritime presence in the surrounding waters.

Abe told the meeting that Japan needs to "substantially strengthen the structure and capabilities" of the coast guard. "We will urgently begin strengthening our (maritime safety) structure."

The government said Japan's fiscal 2017 coast guard budget will reach a record 210 billion yen ($1.8 billion) to add eight new ships and more than 200 law enforcement officials. The 14-ship fleet will add five large surveillance ships and three research vessels.

The disputed islands are called Senkaku by Japan and the Diaoyu by China. They are at the center of diplomatic row and both Japan and China send patrol vessels and aircrafts there routinely, raising concerns of an accidental collision or other risks.

The new coast guard budget will also cover the cost of putting video transmission devices on vessels dedicated to Senkaku patrols, while strengthening maritime surveillance and other measures, Abe said.

Abe's Cabinet on Thursday is set to approve a defense budget expected to be around 5.1 trillion yen ($44 billion), a new high since Abe took office in 2012, according to Japanese media. The reports say upgraded missile defense and new submarine construction are behind the increase.

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