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Japan's government approves record military spending

Reuters

TOKYO (Reuters) - Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's government on Thursday approved an increase in defense spending to record levels to counter growing Chinese military power in the East China Sea and an escalating North Korean ballistic missile threat.

Abe's cabinet on Thursday signed off on a 1.4 percent increase in spending to 5.13 trillion yen ($43.66 billion) for the year starting April 1.

If approved by lawmakers, which is highly likely given the ruling Liberal Democratic Party's control of parliament, it will be the fifth straight annual increase in outlays.

Under Abe, Japan's Self Defense Forces are pivoting away from guarding the nation's north to reinforce an island chain stretching 1,400 km (870 miles) along the southern edge of the East China Sea.

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That means fewer tank divisions in favor of building a mobile force equipped with hardware such as tilt-rotor Osprey carriers, ships, amphibious vehicles and mobile missile batteries.

Japan is also spending more to upgrade its ballistic missile defense, in response to advances in North Korea's ballistic missile program.

(Reporting by Tim Kelly)