A steady Chinese military buildup over the last 20 years is a serious concern for countries in the region, Abe said in a CNN interview from Davos, Switzerland, where tensions between Tokyo and Beijing were on display at the World Economic Forum last week.
"For China to continue to enjoy economic prosperity, it needs to foster trusting international relationships, not tensions," Abe said on the "Fareed Zakaria GPS" program. "And it is important for China to understand this."
"Military expansion will contribute nothing to China's future, its economic growth or prosperity."
Abe's top priority since taking office more than a year ago has been reviving a sluggish economy, but he has also pledged to strengthen Japan's military in response to China's rapid military buildup and recent actions to back its claim to Japanese-held islands in the East China Sea.
Beijing's decision to declare an air defense identification zone in an area that includes the disputed islands triggered protests last month from Japan, South Korea and the United States, which said China was trying to change the status quo in the East China Sea.
Abe seized on that point in Sunday's broadcast.
"It is also important for China to recognize that any attempts to change the status quo by force or coercion cannot be accepted," he said.
The Japanese leader said he has no intention of countering China militarily, "but I am responsible for protecting Japanese waters, territory and Japanese lives and property. And I intend to exercise those responsibilities."