China said Tuesday it will continue expanding its military strength further from its borders, including in disputed areas at sea, but insisted it does not want a confrontation with any of its neighbors.
In a policy paper, China's cabinet said the People's Liberation Army will shift its focus "from territorial air defense to both defense and offense." It also will put a greater emphasis on "open seas protection."
The paper was released as China and the United States quarrel over Beijing's island-building in the South China Sea, which has unnerved several other nations with territorial claims there.
Beijing, which claims almost the entire sea, this week filed a formal complaint after a U.S. military spy plane flew a mission close to the Chinese man-made islands near the Spratly archipelago.
The United States has said it is considering sending additional planes and warships even closer to the islands, in an attempt to send a message that it does not recognize China's claims to sovereignty of the area.
Chinese Defense Ministry spokesman Yang Yujun on Tuesday played down the significance of the man-made islands, saying they are "no different than the construction in other parts of China."
"Some people have been speculating and exaggerating on this issue again and again and their purpose is to blacken China's military [and] exaggerate the regional tension," Yang said, appearing to refer to the United States.
The white paper also noted challenges including the U.S. strategic shift toward Asia, Japan's rising military power, and other "provocative" actions by its neighbors.
"On the issues concerning China's territorial sovereignty and maritime rights and interests, some of its offshore neighbors take provocative actions and reinforce their military presence on China's reefs and islands that they have illegally occupied," the paper said.
"It is thus a long-standing task for China to safeguard its maritime rights and interests," the paper added.
China has competing territorial claims with the Philippines, Vietnam, Malaysia, Taiwan, and Brunei in the South China Sea. It has a separate dispute with Japan in the East China Sea.
The paper made repeated references to China's strategy of "active defense," which it said amounted to: "We will not attack unless we are attacked, but we will surely counterattack if attacked."