Japan’s defense ministry on Friday made its biggest ever budget request, as Tokyo bolsters its military amid worries over China’s expanding naval reach.
The ministry wants 5.05 trillion yen ($48.7 billion) for the year, with the focus on boosting protection of a string of southern islands that stretches from Kyushu to waters near Taiwan.
The request, if approved, would mark the third straight annual defense budget increase and a 3.5 percent rise from the budget for the current fiscal year to March 2015.
The trend reflects Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s wish to build a more active military, with an eye on a possible escalation of tensions with China.
Japan is increasingly wary of China, which is seen by several countries in the region as becoming increasingly aggressive in various sovereignty claims, including a suppurative row over island ownership with Tokyo.
Among items on the defense ministry’s shopping list are 20 “P1” maritime patrol aircraft, with a price tag of 378 billion yen.
It also wants five MV-22 “Osprey” — crossover aircraft that have the manoeuverability of helicopters and the range of airplanes — along with three “Global Hawk” drones and six high-tech F-35 stealth fighters.
The ministry also wants to set aside money to launch a new amphibious brigade, to be assigned to protect the Nansei Shoto islands that lie between the East China Sea and Pacific Ocean.
The augmented budget request comes after the Abe cabinet decided late last year to set aside roughly 24.7 trillion yen between 2014 and 2019 to spend on things including drones, submarines, fighter jets and amphibious vehicles, in a strategic shift towards the south and west.
Japan and China have routinely butted heads over the ownership of the Tokyo-controlled Senkaku Islands, which Beijing claims as the Diaoyus, with official Chinese ships and aircraft regularly testing Japanese forces.
Separately, Chinese naval ships and military jets are seen increasing their activities around Japan, while an unpredictable North Korea continues its missile and nuclear programs.
Conservative ideologue Abe has tirelessly traveled abroad to reinforce ties with foreign leaders, particularly those in Southeast Asia, in a bid to counter China’s efforts to expand its sphere of influence.
Abe has also worked to strengthen Japan’s military alliance with the United States.
His defense efforts, however, have provoked unease in China and South Korea, which were victims of Japan’s aggressive military campaigns through the end of World War II.