Japan defence paper slams China’s ‘coercive’ maritime demands

An aerial file photograph shows the alleged on-going land reclamation by China on Mischief Reef in the Spratly Islands in the South China Sea.
An aerial file photograph shows the alleged on-going land reclamation by China on Mischief Reef in the Spratly Islands in the South China Sea. PHOTO: REUTERS

TOKYO (AFP) - Japan on Tuesday slammed Beijing’s bid to reclaim land in the South China Sea as a “coercive attempt” to force through sweeping maritime claims, in a defence paper that comes as Tokyo tries to expand the role of its military.

Tokyo said China was acting “unilaterally and without compromise", as it also highlighted concern about North Korea’s nuclear programme and Russian moves in violence-wracked Ukraine.

The white paper accused Beijing of “raising concerns among the international community” in ramped-up criticism from last year’s report, an annual summary of Japan’s official view on defence matters.

“China, particularly over maritime issues, continues to act in an assertive manner, including coercive attempts at changing the status quo, and is poised to fulfil its unilateral demands without compromise,” said the report titled “Defence of Japan”.

China is locked in disputes with several neighbours over its claims to almost the entire South China sea and is currently pursuing a rapid programme of artificial island construction in the region.

It is locked in a separate dispute with Japan over the Tokyo-controlled Senkaku islands – which it calls the Diaoyus – in the East China Sea, as Chinese ships and aircrafts regularly test Japanese forces in the area.

Observers have warned that the Sino-Japanese scuffle could set off an armed conflict.

Separately, Japan has complained that China may have started offshore drilling for gas in the disputed waters.

“Japan has repeatedly lodged protest against China’s unilateral development and demanded the termination of such works,” the report said.

The document repeated Tokyo’s concerns over China’s growing assertiveness and widening naval reach in the Pacific and over what it calls the “opaqueness” of Beijing’s sky-rocketing military budget.

But it also noted that China has worked to set up an emergency hotline with Tokyo to prevent unintended conflicts at sea.

Last week, China criticised Tokyo after the lower house of parliament passed bills that could see Japanese troops fight abroad for the first time since World War II.

The move is deeply unpopular at home with approval ratings plummeting for Prime Minister Shinzo Abe who insists the changes are crucial to counter security concerns in the region.

Japanese forces launched a full-scale invasion of China in 1937 and the wartime history between the Asian powers still heavily colours their relations today.

Referring to the Ukraine crisis, the report said Russia “has engaged in so-called ‘hybrid warfare’ that is difficult to identify definitively as an armed attack by a country, and has attempted to change the status quo by force or coercion”.

“The Russian attempt is considered to be a global security issue possibly affecting the whole international community including Asia,” it said.

On North Korea, the report warned of a “greater risk” of Pyongyang deploying ballistic missiles mounted with nuclear warheads “that include Japan in their range”.