Beijing's assertiveness in the South China Sea is likely to be replicated in the East China Sea when its military capabilities improve, a Japanese government-backed report warned yesterday, referring to the two countries' dispute over the Diaoyu Islands, known as the Senkakus in Japanese.
Since the People's Liberation Army Navy has been increasingly active around the waters off the Diaoyu Islands, which Japan claims as part of its territory, over the past few years, Tokyo should pay close attention to any indication that Beijing is looking to expand its influence there, said a report by the National Institute for Defence Studies, a think-tank of Japan's Ministry of Defence.
'China's assertive actions in the South China Sea over the past few years have aggravated the security environment surrounding the country,' the reported said, pointing to a series of military drills conducted by the PLA Navy and government maritime and fishery patrols in the past two years, the construction of a new submarine base on Hainan Island , China's gateway to the South China Sea, and other military activities that show China is increasing its presence in the South and East China seas.
The report continued: 'Applying pressure backed by force to the disputing countries in Southeast Asia may only drive [Beijing] to safeguard [its] own respective sovereign rights with a more hardline approach, the result of which would be heightening regional tensions.
'This is why the United States believes it now needs to strengthen its political and military involvement in the security of this region.'
Beijing lays claim to essentially all of the South China Sea, where its claim to ownership of the Spratly archipelago overlaps with claims by Vietnam, the Philippines, Taiwan, Brunei and Malaysia.
China and Japan also have a long-standing dispute over the uninhabited but strategically important Diaoyus chain, which lies between Japan and Taiwan in the East China Sea.
Jiang Lifeng, a former director of the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences' Institute of Japanese Studies, said Japan had overreacted to the PLA Navy's activities in the East China Sea.
'China will firmly stick to our peaceful development principle despite neighbouring countries' provocative actions, especially the rude demonstration by right-wing politicians on Diaoyu Island to declare their so-called sovereignty early this year,' Jiang said.
'Beijing has been friendly to Japan because we are going to keep good relations with Tokyo, to demonstrate to Southeast Asian territorial claimants that Beijing is sincere about solving our disputes by peaceful negotiations, not violence.'
The report said that Beijing has not yet taken similar forceful action in the East China Sea because it does not want to its relations with Japan and the US to deteriorate.
The United States and Japan are military allies, and Washington has a military base in Okinawa.
But it said that China has aggressively enhanced its military capabilities and adamantly maintained that it would not compromise on 'core interests' related to territorial sovereignty.
It said that China regularly sent advanced patrol ships to the Dioayus and encouraged civilian vessels to go there to demonstrate its claim to sovereignty, which could indicate its future ambitions in the area.
'China's rise has a lasting impact on the structure of the international order in East Asia and the world,' the report said.
'The international community is paying close attention to how China exercises its growing power and influence in dealing with international maritime disputes.'
The year the Diaoyu Islands first appears in written records, in a Chinese book about sea routes, 'Voyage with the Tail Wind'