TOKYO, Sept 10 (Reuters) - Japan expressed concern over China’s growing military activities on Friday and urged Beijing to be clearer about its defence spending, as discord over islets in the East China Sea raised tensions between the Asian economic powers.
In an annual report, Japan’s Defence Ministry also sounded an alarm bell over the possibility of North Korea developing missile-mountable nuclear weapons in the near future.
“China has been intensifying its maritime activities including those in waters near Japan,” the defence white paper said. “The lack of transparency of its national defence policies, and its military activities are a matter of concern for the region and the international community including Japan.”
China’s defence spending has nearly quadrupled over the past decade, while that of Japan, saddled with a weaker economy and a public debt twice the size of its $5 trillion economy, shrank by 4 percent, the report said. Japan’s 230,000-member military is roughly on a par with Germany’s but only one-tenth the size of China‘s.
Japan, whose military has been constrained by a pacifist constitution since its defeat in World War Two, is currently reviewing its defence policies for the first time in more than five years, and aims to complete the update by the year-end.
In April, two Chinese submarines and eight warships were spotted 140 km (90 miles) southwest of the southern Japan island of Okinawa, the first time Japan has confirmed the presence of Chinese submarines and such a large number of vessels in the vicinity of Okinawa, where U.S. bases are concentrated.
China did not violate any international law by having ships in the area, but Defence Minister Toshimi Kitazawa said the ministry would investigate to see if China has any intentions against Japan.
The release of the white paper follows Wednesday’s arrest of a Chinese trawler captain after his boat collided with two Japanese coast guard boats near disputed islets known as Senkaku in Japan and Diaoyu in China, prompting the two countries to lodge protests with each other.
The Japanese government earlier this year postponed the publication of the white paper, originally set for July, due to what media said was a desire to avoid upsetting South Korea ahead of the centenary of Tokyo’s annexation of the Korean peninsula, which took effect on Aug. 29, 1910.
This year’s defence report, like other recent editions, asserted Tokyo’s claim to another group of rocky islets over which Seoul also says it has sovereignty. They are called Dokdo in Korean and Takeshima in Japanese.
The defence white paper, the first such report since the Democratic Party took power in Japan last year, condemned North Korea’s nuclear and missile programmes.
“North Korea’s nuclear tests, coupled with the fact that the country is boosting its ballistic missile capability, which can be used to carry weapons of mass destruction, represent a grave threat to our country ... and should not be tolerated,” it said.
“We cannot rule out the possibility that North Korea will achieve the miniaturisation of its nuclear weapons to a size mountable on missiles in a relatively short span of time, and related moves should be monitored closely.”
China has sought to defuse confrontation over North Korea by hosting six-party nuclear disarmament talks since August 2003. In April 2009 North Korea said it was quitting the negotiations and reversing nuclear “disablement” steps it had agreed to.
The white paper also said the unstable security environment in East Asia makes it impossible to reduce the deterrence of the U.S. forces stationed in Japan, including U.S. Marines.
Ties with Washington, Japan’s key security ally, have been frayed due to a dispute over the relocation of a U.S. Marines’ airbase in Okinawa.
The two countries are currently working to implement a plan, agreed in late May, to shift the functions of Futenma airbase to a less populous area of the island, but the actual relocation is likely to face tough hurdles due to strong opposition from local residents. (Editing by Michael Watson)