Japan PM Abe says no defense budget ceiling as 1 percent to GDP

Japan's Prime Minister Shinzo Abe makes a policy speech at the start of the ordinary session of parliament in Tokyo, Japan, January 20, 2017. REUTERS/Toru Hanai/File Photo

TOKYO (Reuters) - Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said on Thursday he will not cap military spending below one percent of the nation’s economy, reaffirming his commitment to go further than other postwar governments by making the armed forces more robust.

In Abe’s four years as leader, his government has reinterpreted the pacifist constitution to allow Japanese troops potentially to fight overseas, eased curbs on military exports and erased the defence-budget cuts of previous administrations.

“There is no such thinking to keep defense budget below 1 percent ofo GDP under the Abe’s administration,” he told parliament, referring to an informal threshold seen as a curb on military spending.

“I will secure defense spending to protect our nation, to protect Japanese people’s life efficiently, considering issues such as the security environment in Asia-Pacific region, of course including financial situation,” Abe said.

Under the budget bill for the year from April, Japan’s defense spending will rise for a fifth straight year to a record 5.1 trillion yen ($45 billion), seeking to counter North Korea’s nuclear and missile threats and China’s moves in the East China Sea.

But while Abe is hawkish by Japanese standards, his proposed defense budget is smaller than the annual increase proposed by U.S. President Donald Trump, who wants to boost Pentagon spending by a “historic” $54 billion or 10 percent.

China’s military spending rose 7.6 percent last year, the slowest in six years by the official reckoning, to 954 billion yuan ($139 billion), but the influential state-run Global Times tabloid called last month for a rise of at least 10 percent this year, to deal with the uncertainty brought by Trump.

Reporting by Kaori Kaneko, Editing by William Mallard & Simon Cameron-Moore