The scathing assessment, which offered a clear indication of Sino-Japanese tensions, was a key feature of Japan’s annual defence review, which accused China of pushing its territorial claims in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic. The defence white paper, approved by Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s government on Tuesday, said China was “continuing to attempt to alter the status quo in the East China Sea and the South China Sea”.
The document also describes “relentless” intrusions in waters around a group of islets claimed by both nations in the East China Sea, which are known as the Senkaku in Japan and the Diaoyu in China.
With reference to the South China Sea, which Beijing claims sovereignty of more than 90 percent of, establishing fortified bases on numerous uninhabited islands, the paper said China was continuing in its bid to dominate the region, undeterred by the pandemic.
Japan now identifies China as a longer-term and more serious threat than a nuclear-armed North Korea, led by Kim Jong-un.
Beijing now spends four times as much as Tokyo on defence as it builds a large modern military, and increased defence spending by six percent this year.
Japan’s defence review also said China appeared to be responsible for “propaganda” and “disinformation” amid “social uncertainties and confusion” caused by the virus outbreak.
The report highlighted online claims the virus was brought to China by a US military member, or that Chinese herbal remedies could treat the disease, a defence ministry official said at a briefing.
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He added: “The world will not allow Beijing to treat the South China Sea as its maritime empire.
“America stands with our Southeast Asian allies and partners in protecting their sovereign rights to offshore resources, consistent with their rights and obligations under international law.
“We stand with the international community in defense of freedom of the seas and respect for sovereignty and reject any push to impose ‘might makes right’ in the South China Sea or the wider region.”
Beijing insists its intentions in the waterway, through which about $3 trillion of global trade passes every year, are peaceful.
In Beijing, foreign ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian said China had lodged a complaint over the review.
He told a daily briefing: “Japan’s defence white paper is full of biases and false information.
“It is trying to do all it can to hype up the so-called China threat.”
Despite a constitution which forbids the possession of offensive weapons, Japan is one of the world’s biggest military spenders.
Its defence budget has increased by almost 15 percent in less than a decade, largely in response to China’s increasing belligerence and North Korea developing nuclear weapons and missiles which could hit targets across Japan.