Japan says China's aggressive maritime activities in the East China Sea are among the major threats to the country's security, as Prime Minister Shinzo Abe pushes through a series of controversial measures aimed at expanding the role of Japan's military.
In its annual defense review issued Tuesday, Japan's Defense Ministry lashed out at Beijing's development of undersea oil and gas reserves in the East China Sea, as well as its increasing military presence near a series of Japanese-controlled islands that are also claimed by China.
The report denounced China's activities in the resource-rich South China Sea, where it has begun building several artificial islands, a move which has escalated tensions between Beijing and several of its East Asian neighbors.
"China, particularly over conflicting maritime issues, continues to act in an assertive manner, including coercive attempts at changing the status quo, and is poised to fulfill its unilateral demands without compromise," the report concluded.
The Defense Ministry also identified North Korea's nuclear missile program as a threat to Japan's security.
Japan's lower house of parliament has approved legislation that will loosen restraints on Japan's Self-Defense Forces, which were imposed in the country's post-World War II pacifist constitution. The legislation, among other things, would allow Japan's military to be able to defend friendly countries that come under attack.
"I've said again and again that any conflict should be resolved peacefully based on international law - not by the use of force or threat. The strong shouldn't abuse the weak on the free seas," said Abe.
The bills now head to the upper chamber of parliament for a vote within 60 days. While the upper chamber could reject the legislation, Abe has enough allies in the more powerful lower chamber to override that decision, if necessary.
Opposition lawmakers and much of the general public are opposed to major changes to the pacifist principles outlined in the country's 70-year-old constitution.
China's foreign ministry has condemned the passage of the legislation, saying it calls into question whether Tokyo will continue its "exclusively defense-oriented" policies.
Meanwhile, the U.S. Navy's new commander of the U.S. Pacific Fleet sounded a conciliatory note toward China on the last stop of a three-country Asian tour.
Adm. Scott Swift said in Tokyo on Tuesday that the U.S. and China have much more in common than in competition.
The two countries have been engaged in a verbal war over China's land reclamation and construction activity on disputed reefs in the South China Sea.
Swift told reporters that progress is being made on the U.S.-China relationship, but that the friction often overshadows it.
He assumed command of the Pacific Fleet in late May. He visited the Philippines and South Korea before Japan.
Some material for this report came from the Associated Press.