WASHINGTON (AFP) - Japan is ready to counter China if it resorts to force in the pursuit of its geopolitical interests, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said in an interview published Saturday.
"I've realised that Japan is expected to exert leadership not just on the economic front, but also in the field of security in the Asia-Pacific," Mr Abe told the Wall Street Journal, speaking after a series of summits this month with regional leaders.
He said Japan had become too inward-looking over the past 15 years, but as it regains economic strength "we'd like to contribute more to making the world a better place." The Journal said he made clear one way Japan would "contribute" would be countering China in Asia.
"There are concerns that China is attempting to change the status quo by force, rather than by rule of law. But if China opts to take that path, then it won't be able to emerge peacefully," Mr Abe said.
"So it shouldn't take that path, and many nations expect Japan to strongly express that view. And they hope that as a result, China will take responsible action in the international community."
For more than a year, relations between Beijing and Tokyo have been chilled by a territorial dispute in the East China Sea where China claims a small, uninhabited archipelago administered by Japan under the name of Senkaku.
Beijing calls it Diaoyu.
One of Mr Abe's first decisions as prime minister has been to increase Japan's defence budget for the first time in 11 years.
Tokyo also plans to hold a large air and sea exercise in November to strengthen the island's defences, and as a display of might intended for the Chinese.