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Terrorism & Security

Japan to China: Stop trying to change the region by force

China blasted Japan's 'white paper' defense report about its maritime activities as 'untruthful.'

By Staff writer / July 9, 2013

A Chinese marine surveillance ship (r.) sails near a Japanese fishing boat (l.) off one of the disputed islands, called Senkaku in Japan and Diaoyu in China, July 1.

Kyodo/Reuters

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Sara Miller Llana moved to Paris in April 2013 to become the Monitor's Europe Bureau Chief. Previously she was the paper's Latin America Bureau Chief, based in Mexico City, from 2006 to 2013.

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Japan has released its first “white paper” since Prime Minister Shinzo Abe returned to power, claiming China is seeking to “change the status quo by force.”

The report ratchets up tensions between the two countries, which have simmered in recent months over the territorial dispute over uninhabited island in the East China Sea.

According to the report, quoted by The Wall Street Journal:

[China] resorts to tactics viewed as high-handed, including attempts to use force to change the status quo, as it insists on its own unique assertions that are inconsistent with the order of the international law ... Among them are dangerous actions that could lead to unintended consequences. In a way, this makes us concerned where we are headed.

China has already counterattacked by calling the annual report full of “untruthful accusations.”

China's maritime activities are lawful and peaceful, while Japan has recently “played up the China threat, causing tensions and confrontation," said Chinese foreign ministry spokesperson Hua Chunying, according to Voice of America, adding; "And the international community cannot help but worry over where Japan is heading.”

This year's report contains “more nationalist rhetoric and adopted a far more vigilant tone than in previous years in describing the regional security challenges the country faces and how it plans to respond to them,” according to The Wall Street Journal.   

That's a worrisome development for both sides that say resolution seems increasingly difficult, as The Christian Science Monitor reported in March.

"I don't see a way out," says Akihisa Nagashima, a former deputy Japanese Defense minister. "It is very unfortunate, but we do not have a solution."

"It will be very hard for China's new leaders to give up their political stand on the Diaoyu islands," says Sun Zhe, who teaches international relations at Tsinghua University in Beijing, using the Chinese name for the islands known in Japan as the Senkaku.

The two countries, Professor Sun worries, "may be falling into a deep trap and a black hole of misperceptions that create miscalculations."

The territorial dispute has lasted for decades between the two nations but hit a low in September, after Japan purchased three of five islands by a private owner.

The tone of the defense report might be political, as a professor in Tokyo tells Bloomberg News: 

The criticism of China echoes comments Prime Minister Abe made in recent television appearances ahead of an upper house election on July 21, where his ruling Liberal Democratic Party and its coalition partner are seeking a majority.

“Of course Abe wants to ratchet up the China threat in the build-up to the elections, because that’s his trump card,” said Jeff Kingston, professor of Asian studies at Temple University in Tokyo. Mr. Abe emphasized security issues before his landslide lower house poll victory in December.

The white paper outlines the first budget increase for defense in 11 years. And it's worried Japan's other neighbors as well.

Even though it criticizes nuclear development in North Korea, it has also angered South Korea, as VOA notes: 

South Korea – also a potential target of rival North's forces – is joining China in criticizing the Japanese document. That is because the annual paper – as it has since 2005 – asserts a territorial claim over a rocky outcrop, covering less than one-fifth of a square kilometer, held by South Korea (known as Dokdo in Korean and Takeshima in Japanese).

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