December 21, 2018 / 1:26 AM / 6 months ago

Japan's govt approves record defence spending, seventh straight annual hike

TOKYO, Dec 21 (Reuters) - Japan's government approved a record defence 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 defence 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 defence 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 defences 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 defence white paper as its "most serious and pressing threat". ($1 = 112.4100 yen) (Reporting by Tim Kelly)

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