TOKYO Japan will revise its defense policy and weapons purchase plan by December, the Yomiuri newspaper said on Tuesday, as Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's new government grapples with heightened tensions with neighbors China and North and South Korea.
Japan's current defense policy, compiled two years ago under a Democratic Party government, calls for cuts in the defense budget and army headcount, but hawkish Abe wants to boost defense spending and personnel.
Abe, 58, led his Liberal Democratic Party to a landslide victory in the December 16 election partly on a nationalist platform, saying he wants to loosen the limit of Japan's 1947 pacifist constitution on the military.
Japan's defense budget fell for the 10th straight year to 4.65 trillion yen ($53 billion) in the fiscal year ending in March, reflecting the constraints of the nation's huge public debt, which is the worst among major economies at twice the size of its annual economic output.
The Yomiuri said government will shelve the current National Defense Programme Guideline, which lays out defense policy for the next 10 years, and the defense gear shopping list for the next five years, while compiling new ones by December.
It also said the government plans to boost Japan's defense budget by more than 100 billion yen for the year starting in April, the first rise in 11 years, to fund fuel and repair costs for patrol planes and research on radar technology.
Sino-Japanese relations deteriorated sharply since the Japanese government bought disputed East China Sea islets from a private Japanese owner last September, triggering violent protests across China.
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.
Japan's relations with South Korea frayed badly last August after outgoing President Lee Myung-bak visited a disputed set of islands known as Takeshima in Japan and Dokdo in Korea. While North Korea's long-range rocket launch last December has again raised tensions in the region.
(Reporting by Kiyoshi Takenaka; Editing by Michael Perry)