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Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe attends a meeting in Tokyo in April 2014.
Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe attends a meeting in Tokyo in April 2014. (Erin A. Kirk-Cuomo/U.S. Department of Defense file)

This story has been corrected.

CAMP FOSTER, Okinawa — Japan approved its largest defense budget Wednesday as it tries to take a larger role in its own security with an eye toward a resurgent China.

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s Cabinet approved a 96.34-trillion-yen ($828 billion) budget for fiscal 2015 with 4.9 trillion yen ($42.1 billion) for defense, a 2 percent increase from last year, officials said.

The budget will be forwarded to the Diet for final approval, which is seen as a formality as Abe’s Liberal Democratic Party controls more than two-thirds of Japan’s legislature.

Budget purchases for improved air, land and sea capabilities will bolster the Self-Defense Forces’ state of readiness at a time when China is building island bases in the South China Sea and confrontations near Japan’s southern island chain appear more and more frequent.

The budget calls for $3 billion for 20 P-1 fixed-wing patrol aircraft, $887.5 million for six F-35A fighter jets, $132.4 million for the Global Hawk drone system, $443.7 million for five V-22 Osprey tilt-rotor aircraft and $154 million to stand up an amphibious unit.

There also were considerable allocations for the U.S.-Japan alliance and the realignment of American forces in the region: $14.6 million for the shift of U.S. Marines to Guam, $10.3 million for a training facility in the Northern Marianas and $878 million to move carrier-based aircraft from Atsugi to Iwakuni, a Defense Ministry spokesman said.

The Cabinet also directed a sharp increase in funding for the move of Marine Corps Air Station Futenma to Camp Schwab in Okinawa’s north, something that had been planned, at $1.5 billion. The relocation has generated protests on the island that is home to the majority of American forces in Japan.

Another $76.5 million was allocated for expenses in closing military installations south of Kadena Air Base on Okinawa.

At a news conference, Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga denied that cuts in Okinawa’s development budget, which surged under pro-relocation Gov. Hirokazu Nakaima, were aimed at punishing incoming Gov. Takeshi Onaga, who has vowed to block the already-underway project. Suga said funds were left unspent last year.

Correction: An earlier version of this story stated that the budget calls for $887.5 billion for six F-35A fighter jets. The correct figure is $887.5 million.

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Matthew M. Burke has been reporting from Okinawa for Stars and Stripes since 2014. The Massachusetts native and UMass Amherst alumnus previously covered Sasebo Naval Base and Marine Corps Air Station Iwakuni, Japan, for the newspaper. His work has also appeared in the Boston Globe, Cape Cod Times and other publications.
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