Japan's government approves record defense spending, seventh straight annual hike

Japanese Self-Defence Forces' (SDF) tanks parade during the annual SDF ceremony at Asaka Base in Asaka, north of Tokyo, Japan, October 14, 2018. REUTERS/Kim Kyung-Hoon

TOKYO (Reuters) - Japan’s government approved a record defense budget on Friday that has expanded by almost 12 percent over seven years as Tokyo tries to counter growing Chinese military might in the East China Sea and guard against the threat posed by North Korean ballistic missiles.

The budget for the year starting April 1 will rise 1.4 percent to 5.26 trillion yen ($48 billion). The budget request requires approval by parliament, where it has a majority.

The biggest outlay is an initial 176 billion yen payment on two U.S.-built, ground-based Aegis Ashore air defense radars that can track and target ballistic missiles in space. Japan will also spend 68 billion yen to buy six F-35 fighters.

Japan said in a midterm defense procurement plan last week it would order more advanced stealth fighters over the next several years, including short take-off and vertical landing versions to help bolster defenses along its islands at the edge of the East China Sea.

Japan also remains wary of North Korean promises to abandon nuclear weapons and ballistic missiles, which it has described in a defense white paper as its “most serious and pressing threat”.

Reporting by Tim Kelly