TOKYO • Japan's defence ministry yesterday made its biggest budget request, as Tokyo bolsters its military amid lingering territorial rows and worries over China's expanding naval reach.
The ministry wants 5.09 trillion yen (S$59 billion) for the next fiscal year, with the focus on strengthening protection of a string of southern islands that stretch from Japan's mainland to waters near Taiwan.
The request, if approved, would mark the fourth straight annual defence budget increase and a 2.2 per cent rise from the budget for the current fiscal year, which ends in March 2016.
The trend reflects Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's attempt to build a more active military, with an eye on a possible escalation of tensions with China. He is also pushing to tweak Japan's pacifist Constitution, changes that could see troops engage in combat for the first time since the end of World War II.
The bid has proved deeply unpopular at home and sparked a protest by tens of thousands outside Parliament on Sunday. Mr Abe's defence efforts have also provoked unease in China and South Korea, which were victims of Japan's military campaigns until the end of World War II.
Among the items on the defence ministry's shopping list are 17 SH-60K naval patrol helicopters, three Global Hawk drones, six high-tech F-35 stealth fighters and 12 V-22 Osprey - crossover aircraft that have the manoeuvrability of helicopters and the range of airplanes.
The latest budget request comes after Mr Abe's Cabinet decided to set aside roughly 24.7 trillion yen between last year and 2019 to spend on drones, submarines, fighter jets and amphibious vehicles.
Japan and China contest ownership of uninhabited islands in the East China Sea called the Senkaku by Tokyo and the Diaoyu by Beijing. Japan administers the chain.
China's military budget for this year rose 10.1 per cent to 886.9 billion yuan (S$196 billion), the second largest in the world after the US. AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, REUTERS