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Japan defence paper points at China's growing military reach

by Staff Writers
Tokyo (AFP) Sept 10, 2010
Japan voiced concern over China's growing military muscle in a defence paper Friday, as a row with Beijing continued over the arrest of a Chinese trawler captain in disputed waters.

In its annual Defence of Japan report, Tokyo pointed to increased Chinese naval activities near its shores, including tense incidents this year in which Chinese helicopters staged close fly-bys of Japanese warships.

As it has in past years, the defence ministry report, approved by Prime Minister Naoto Kan's cabinet in the morning, urged Beijing to be clearer about its military spending, including on its blue-water fleet.

"China has been intensifying its maritime activities, including those in waters near Japan," the document said, adding that Beijing had failed to "disclose a clear, specific future vision of its military modernisation".

"The lack of transparency of its national defence policies and the military activities are a matter of concern for the region and the international community, including Japan, which require prudent analysis," it said.

Defense Minister Toshimi Kitazawa told reporters that China's military strength has significantly changed from last year through this year.

"It is the reality. By clearly writing that... I think we were able to firmly express our current understanding," he said.

The report came amid growing concern in the region over China's increased assertiveness in claiming maritime territories, including in the South China Sea, where it has competing claims with Vietnam and other countries.

A Pentagon report last month said China was ramping up investment in nuclear weapons, long-range missiles, submarines, aircraft carriers and cyber warfare, and building up a force that could strike as far as the US territory of Guam.

In March, China said it was raising its defence budget by 7.5 percent to 532.1 billion yuan -- 77.9 billion dollars at the exchange rate of the time.

The Pentagon paper estimated China's overall military-related spending was more than 150 billion dollars in 2009, with areas included that did not figure in the publicly released budget.

Japan's report was released in a week when Beijing and Tokyo both issued diplomatic protests in a war of words over Japan's arrest Wednesday of a Chinese skipper whose boat collided with two Japan Coast Guard vessels.

The incident took place near an uninhabited island chain in the East China Sea -- a string of rocky outcrops known as Senkaku in Japan and Diaoyu in China -- which lie in rich fishing ground.

China's foreign ministry on Thursday called the captain's arrest "absurd, illegal and invalid" and warned that, if badly handled, it "could have a serious impact on the larger interests of China-Japan relations".

Tokyo suspects the captain deliberately rammed the two Japanese vessels in a confrontation near the disputed island chain.

The Asian giants have started talks to jointly exploit energy deposits in maritime areas where their exclusive economic zones overlap, but tense incidents at sea have often set back relations between the traditional rivals.

In April, Japanese warships followed a Chinese naval flotilla of 10 vessels, including submarines and destroyers, that sailed in international waters between far-southern Japanese islands, an unusual move that jittered Tokyo.

In response to the surveillance, the Chinese fleet sent helicopters to buzz the Japanese ships in close fly-bys, sparking diplomatic protests from Japan.

The increased Chinese activity in its southern waters has sparked a defence rethink in which Japan plans to deploy more forces to its scattered southern islands and away from Cold War-era locations in the north near Russia.

The defence report also stressed the importance of Japan's 50-year-old security alliance with the United States, which has dozens of bases and almost 50,000 troops stationed in the island nation.

The wide-ranging paper also highlighted the threat posed by communist North Korea, calling its nuclear and missile programmes an "extremely destabilising factor", and looked at emerging threats such as cyber warfare.

It also maintained Japan's claims on small islands disputed with South Korea, which are called Takeshima in Japan and Dokdo in Korean.

Japanese officials reportedly delayed the publication of the white paper by more than a month to avoid angering Seoul ahead of the August 29 centennial of imperial Japan's annexation of the Korean peninsula.

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