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9 Jul, 2013 09:30

China tipping balance: Japan warns ‘risky behavior’ may trigger ‘incident’

China tipping balance: Japan warns ‘risky behavior’ may trigger ‘incident’

Tokyo is increasingly under threat from an emboldened China and an unpredictable North Korea, a Japanese defense paper says. Accusing China of “coercive” tactics, Japan is pushing to amend its pacifist constitution and pave the way for a standing army.

Tokyo released its first regional defense report since a territorial dispute over a set of islands in the East China Sea erupted last year. The paper notes that tensions have continued to build and “are becoming increasingly tangible, acute and serious."

"China has attempted to change the status quo by force based on its own assertion, which is incompatible with the existing order of international law," the report said, underlining comments made by Prime Minister Shinzo Abe on Sunday. It added that China should stick to “international norms.”

Over the last couple of months China and Japan have been trading diplomatic blows over so-called territorial violations surrounding a group of islands to which both countries lay claim.

Beijing calls them the Diaoyus, while to the Japanese they are known as the Senkakus.

Chinese demonstrators shout slogans during a protest against Japan's "nationalizing" of Diaoyu Islands, also known as Senkaku in Japan, in Hangzhou, east China's Zhejiang province, on Septermber 18, 2012 (China out / AFP Photo)

Japan argues the islets are legally and historically located on Japanese territory, however, Beijing believes they were “stolen” from China at the end of the Sino-Japanese war in 1895. Taiwan also lays claim the small group of islands.

The area around the islets is believed to hold significant fuel deposits.

“China's activities include its intrusion into Japan's territorial waters, its violation of Japan's territorial airspace and even dangerous actions that could cause a contingency,'' wrote the report.

Back in February the Japanese government claimed a Chinese naval ship had locked fire control on to a Japanese destroyer in the area, escalating tensions between the two countries. Beijing denied the allegations, but the defense paper dismissed the Chinese assertions as “inconsistent with the facts.”

Tokyo has also scrambled fighter jets a number of times in response to what it claims were airspace violations by China.

Massive protests swept China last August with thousands demonstrating against “Japanese imperialism.” Activists targeted Japanese companies and cars, vandalizing local businesses.

Chinese demonstrators carry Chinese national flags and shout slogans during a protest against Japan's "nationalizing" of the Diaoyu islands, also known as Senkaku in Japan, in Wenzhou, east China's Zhejiang province on September 18, 2012 (China out / AFP Photo)

Beefing up defense

In response to the island dispute and the growing threat from the Korean Peninsula, Tokyo has raised its defense budget for the first time in 11 years. Moreover, PM Abe is trying to revise the Japanese constitution to allow for collective military action.

Japan will hold elections in the upper house of parliament on July 21 and if Abe’s Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) obtains the majority it will be a step closer to pushing through the amendment.

The LDP has also recommended stepped up the military presence around the disputed islets by deploying a naval division in the area.

A change to the Japanese pacifist constitution could potentially upset relations with Tokyo’s neighbors in the region and further escalate tensions.