China is trying to change the regional status quo by force based on claims that contradict international law, Japan said in a defense report that the Chinese government said contained “untruthful accusations.”
“In cases where China’s interests conflict with those of neighboring countries, including Japan, it has taken measures that have been called high-handed, including trying to change the status quo by force,” the Defense Ministry said in its annual report released today on Japan’s security situation.
Relations between the two turned frostier last September than any point since the normalization of diplomatic ties in 1972, with Japan buying three islands also claimed by China from a private owner, setting off protests across China. As well as asserting its rights over the uninhabited East China Sea islands, known as Diaoyu in China and Senkaku in Japan, China has taken effective control of a land feature near the Philippines.
The criticism of China echoes comments Prime Minister Shinzo Abe made in recent television appearances ahead of an upper house election on July 21, where his ruling Liberal Democratic Party and its coalition partner are seeking a majority.
“Of course Abe wants to ratchet up the China threat in the build-up to the elections, because that’s his trump card,” said Jeff Kingston, professor of Asian studies at Temple University in Tokyo. Abe emphasized security issues before his landslide lower house poll victory in December.
“Japan has been spreading the so-called ’China threat,’ creating regional tension,” Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying told reporters in Beijing today in response to the report.
“Given that some political forces in Japan want more military buildup and frequent military exercises, the international community cannot but feel worried about where Japan is heading,” Hua said. “We hope that Japan can correct its attitude and do more to promote peace in the region.”
Japanese fighter planes were dispatched more than 300 times to investigate approaches by Chinese planes to Japan’s airspace in the year to March 2013, about twice as often as the previous year, according to the report. Chinese government ships entered Japanese-controlled waters around the disputed islands 41 times between September and April, compared with three incursions in the preceding eight months, it said.
Japan called China’s actions, including what it said was the locking of fire-control radar on a Japanese ship in January, “dangerous” and said they risked triggering an unexpected situation. “This is extremely regrettable and China is urged to accept and adhere to international norms,” the report said.
In the report, which comes as Japan overhauls its mid-term defense strategy after Abe increased the defense budget for the first time in 11 years, the ministry reiterated its concern about a lack of transparency in China’s defense budget. “China is expanding and increasing its military and security activities and combined with the lack of transparency, this is a cause for concern in the region.”
China, with the second-biggest military budget in the world after the U.S., said in March that defense spending would rise 10.7 percent this year to 740.6 billion yuan ($120.7 billion). Its reported defense spending as a percentage of gross domestic product is less than a third of the U.S. level. China’s military budget was 1.3 percent of GDP last year, while U.S. military spending in 2012 amounted to $677.2 billion in inflation-adjusted dollars, or about 4.5 percent of GDP.
The South Korean government objected to a clause in the report claiming islands disputed between the two countries, “sternly” urging Japan to remove it and not make such claims in future, the Foreign Ministry said in a statement on its website.
The document included a description of Japan’s efforts to bolster defense ties with the U.S. military, including through joint training exercises like last month’s Dawn Blitz island defense drill in California.
“This strengthening of the Japan-U.S. relationship is aimed at achieving peace and stability in the region,” Masayoshi Tatsumi, press secretary at the Defense Ministry, told reporters in a briefing. “It is not being done with any particular country in mind.”
The dispute between Japan and China “serves the interests of both countries,” Temple University’s Kingston said.
“This is diverting attention in China away from other problems. For Abe, this is wind in his sails because the LDP has a lock on security issues. So this is a useful conflict as long as it doesn’t turn violent,” he said.