Japan military seeks record budget after NK missile

Tokyo (AFP) - Japan's defence ministry said Thursday it will request its largest-ever annual budget, just days after nuclear-armed North Korea fired a rocket over the country in a provocation that drew global condemnation.

The ministry announced it is asking for 5.26 trillion yen ($47.9 billion) for the fiscal year through March 2019 to beef up its missile defence.

That follows on five straight years of budgetary increases as territorial tensions with China also aggravate Japan's security concerns.

The current proposal calls for spending on new SM-3 Block IIA interceptors -- developed jointly with the US -- to counter potential attacks by simultaneous missile launches, as well as a next-generation early-warning and radar system.

Adopting a land-based Aegis missile defence scheme to complement Japan's sea-based system is also included in the multi-billion-dollar budget request.

The proposal comes two days after the North fired a ballistic missile over Japan.

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe -- who has been pushing to expand the role of his pacifist country's Self-Defence Forces -- denounced the launch as an "unprecedented, serious and grave threat".

He agreed with US President Donald Trump to increase pressure on North Korea -- which has so far been mainly through sanctions -- to abandon its nuclear weapon and missile development programmes.

The two leaders had a telephone call early Thursday, their second this week, while Japanese Defence Minister Itsunori Onodera spoke with his US counterpart Jim Mattis.

Japan is closely allied with the US on security issues and hosts American bases and tens of thousands of troops on its territory, which North Korea considers a threat.

The North's official KCNA news agency decried Japan in a commentary late Wednesday, saying the allies' "military nexus" had become a "serious threat" to the Korean peninsula and Japan was "accelerating self-destruction".

Japan's latest defence budget proposal also asks for money to buy a half dozen F-35 stealth fighters, a pair of frigate ships and high-tech gadgetry to protect remote southern isles in waters where China has shown its expanding naval ambitions.

The uninhabited islets in the East China Sea are administered by Japan, which calls them the Senkakus, but are also claimed by China which refers to them as the Diaoyus.

Japan has been boosting defence ties with the Philippines and other Southeast Asian nations, some of which have their own disputes with Beijing in the South China Sea.

The previous year's defence budget amount was 5.13 trillion yen, meaning the current request is for a 2.5 percent rise.

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