Japan sees risks in China’s stance in island spats

TOKYO (AP) — Japan on Tuesday criticized China for trying to resolve territorial conflicts with shows of force that increase the risk of dangerous clashes and said North Korea appeared to have entered a “new phase” toward producing better long-range missiles while improving its nuclear weapons program.

Tokyo is particularly concerned by China’s activities in waters around islands that both countries claim, according to the Ministry of Defense’s annual report, which is a yearly snapshot of what Japan perceives to be its major security issues. The islands dispute has strained relations between Japan and China.

For months, ships from both countries have regularly patrolled around the small island group called the Senkaku in Japan and Diaoyutai in China. Though no military clashes have occurred, the cat-and-mouse game has raised fears of escalation between the Asian powers.

The report said Chinese aircraft and surveillance ships affiliated to China’s maritime law enforcement agencies have repeatedly intruded into Japanese territorial waters and airspace and added that a Chinese naval ship directed its fire-control radar at Japanese destroyer in January, a move that could be seen as preparation for an attack.

“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. “There is a concern over its future direction.”

The annual report was the first issued under Prime Minister Shinzo Abe. He took office late last year and has been a strong advocate of bolstering Japan’s military and taking a hawkish position toward China.

On North Korea, which Japan sees as another major security challenge for the region, the report said Pyongyang’s third nuclear test — last February — and its launch of a long-range rocket in December last year suggest it might be making considerable progress on both fronts.

The report said North Korea appears to be pursuing research and development for deploying existing ballistic missiles, extending the range of its missiles and converting to solid fuel propulsion, which makes missiles easier to move around and harder to detect and destroy.

“We assess that North Korea’s ballistic missile development is considered to have entered a new phase,” it said. “In conjunction with its efforts to enhance its ballistic missile capability, the nuclear tests by North Korea pose a significant threat to Japan’s security, and they are significantly detrimental to peace and stability in Northeast Asia and the international community.”

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