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Japan's cabinet endorses record military budget

US Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-MN) (L) talks with Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) during a rally with fellow Democrats before voting on H.R. 1, or the People Act, on the East Steps of the US Capitol on March 08, 2019 in Washington, DC. (AFP photo)
Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga reviews Air Self-Defense Force at Iruma Air Base in Sayama, Saitama Prefecture, Japan, November 28, 2020. (Photo by Reuters)

Japan's cabinet has ratified a record-high budget proposal for the upcoming fiscal year that begins in April, including another military spending hike to counter China and a stimulus for its pandemic-hit economy.

The budget proposal, approved on Monday by Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga's cabinet, marks the ninth successive annual increase and reflects a 3.8-percent rise from the current fiscal year, amounting to $1.03 trillion or 106.6 trillion yens.

"We will strengthen the capacity necessary for national defense... in order to keep pace with the security environment which is becoming increasingly tough," said Chief Cabinet Secretary Katsunobu Kato during his regular press briefing following the budget passage.

This is while the government is yet again seeking an all-time high military budget for the seventh straight year -- this time of 5.3 trillion yen, up half a percent compared to the 2020 fiscal year as Japan – which depends almost entirely on the US military for its national defense – is pushed to spend more to counter purported threats from neighboring China and North Korea.

Among the key items in Tokyo’s military expenditures are 57.6 billion yens for the development of a next-generation fighter jet and 33.5 billion yens to develop a new missile.

Moreover, the total budget also reflects the long shadow cast by the coronavirus outbreak and the rising cost of sustaining the country's ageing population, with social welfare and pension programs estimated to cost nearly 36 trillion yens.

Suga's cabinet also intends to set aside a 5.5-trillion-yen reserve for potential use in future measures to contain the pandemic.

Tokyo is further guarding against declining tax revenues as the pandemic continues to pressure business activity and the government will likely have to resort to debt to cover nearly 40 percent of its budget.

The budget proposal will now be passed on to Japan’s parliament for its approval, expected sometime in the spring of 2021.

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