TOKYO : Japan’s defence 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 defence budget increase and a 3.5 percent rise from the budget for the current fiscal year, which ends in 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 Beijing, 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 defence ministry’s shopping list are 20 “P1” maritime patrol aircraft, with a combined 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, which 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 programmes.
Conservative ideologue Abe has tirelessly travelled 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 defence 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.
Ahead of the announcement, Chinese defense ministry spokesman Yang Yujun called on Tokyo to remember the past.
“It is important to draw lessons from history and adopt a development path that is peaceful, which we believe is conducive not only to the interest of Japan but also to the regional peace and stability,” he told reporters.