TOKYO Japan's government is likely to increase defense spending for the first time in 11 years, Japanese media reported on Saturday, as newly elected Prime Minister Shinzo Abe pledges a sterner response to a territorial dispute with China.
The government is considering increasing defense spending by around 2 percent to more than 4.7 trillion yen ($53.4 billion) in the fiscal year starting in April, the Mainichi newspaper reported. It gave no source for its information.
The extra spending would be used to increase personnel in the ground self-defense forces and upgrade equipment for land, air and maritime forces, the Asahi newspaper also reported on Saturday. It also did not cite any sources.
Japan's Defense Ministry has scrambled F-15 fighter jets several times in recent weeks to intercept Chinese marine surveillance planes approaching the disputed islands near Taiwan. The islands are known as Senkaku in Japanese and the Diaoyu in Chinese.
The Japanese government administers the islands and purchased three of them from a private owner last September, sparking violent anti-Japanese protests across China. Beijing also claims the isles as part of Chinese territory.
There is a renewed focus on whether relations between China and Japan will improve after voters swept Abe's conservative Liberal Democratic Party back into power last month after three years in opposition.
Abe has repeatedly said there is no room for negotiation on the islands and has said he would boost defense spending to counter China's growing military clout.
(Reporting by Stanley White; Editing by Paul Tait)