TOKYO : Japan’s defence ministry on Monday made its biggest ever 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 ($42 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 percent 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 Sunday.

Abe’s defence efforts have also provoked unease in China and South Korea, which were victims of Japan’s aggressive military campaigns through the end of World War II.

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 dispute over island ownership with Tokyo.

Among the items on the defence ministry’s shopping list are 17 SH-60K naval patrol helicopters, with a combined price tag of 103 billion yen.

It also wants three Global Hawk drones, six hi-tech F-35 stealth fighters and 12 V-22 Osprey - crossover aircraft that have the manoeuverability of helicopters and the range of airplanes.

The latest budget request comes after Abe’s cabinet decided to set aside roughly 24.7 trillion yen between 2014 and 2019 to spend on drones, submarines, fighter jets and amphibious vehicles.

Japan and China have routinely butted heads over the ownership of the Tokyo-controlled Senkaku Islands, which Beijing claims as the Diaoyus. Official Chinese ships and aircraft regularly test Japanese forces.

Tokyo also keeps a wary eye on an unpredictable North Korea.