(c) 2013, Bloomberg News.

(c) 2013, Bloomberg News.

TOKYO Japan's Defense Ministry is seeking to raise spending to its highest level since 2005, shifting resources to its southwestern islands and boosting its marine forces as it faces a territorial dispute with China.

The ministry will request a 3 percent increase in spending to 4.82 trillion yen ($49.2 billion) for the financial year starting in April, according to a document given to reporters. After taking office in December, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe approved a 0.8 percent increase in defense spending for the current year, the first rise in 11 years.

A dispute with China over islands in the East China Sea has heated up since the Japanese government bought three of them from a private owner last September. Chinese ships' incursions into Japanese-controlled waters around the islands prompted Japan to accuse China of trying to change the status quo by force. The requested 3 percent increase contrasts with 10.7 percent growth in China's military budget this year, to 740.6 billion yuan ($121 billion).

Among the items included in the Japanese ministry's budget request, which may be trimmed before enactment, is 1.5 billion yen for amphibious training facilities and 1.3 billion yen for two new amphibious vehicles. Japanese ground troops will for the first time take part in the U.S.-led Rim of the Pacific Exercise to train with U.S. Marines.

The ministry also requested 1.6 billion yen to build a military facility on the tiny island of Yonaguni, close to the area disputed with China. A new airborne surveillance unit is to be based on the southernmost main island of Okinawa. The ministry will keep researching the possibility of acquiring tilt-rotor aircraft, which can take off and land like helicopters and fly long distances like fixed-wing planes.

After negotiations with the Finance Ministry, the defense budget will be submitted to the cabinet for approval with passage by the Parliament generally taking place before the end of the financial year in March.

The proposed increase in the defense budget is partly explained by the ending of a program under which government employees' salaries were cut and funds diverted to reconstruction of northeast Japan following the March 2011 earthquake and tsunami.

Japan's Coast Guard, which faces newly upgraded Chinese patrol ships in the standoff around the islands, is also seeking to add 745 more personnel and increase its budget by 20 billion yen, Jiji news agency said on Aug. 27.

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