Japan has accused China of "high handed" tactics for moving forward with its claims over the South China Sea despite mounting criticism from other Asian leaders. China's efforts to construct the foundations of a military base on Fiery Cross Reef, one of seven artificial islands China has created in the disputed Spratly Islands, is a step too far, Japanese defense leaders claim in a new white paper expected to be released in July, according to DefenseNews.
Japan's accusations come as Japanese lawmakers are debating legislation that will enable the country to engage in collective self-defense for the first time since World War II. Meanwhile, the Japan Self-Defense Force (SDF) will participate in joint drills with the United States and Australia on Australian soil for the first time later this year.
"If Japan has chosen to insert new language of China being 'belligerent' in the defense white paper then it is quite a step up in language from the previous, more guarded cause for 'concern' type of expressions in the past about Chinese military movements," said Christopher Hughes, professor of international politics and Japanese studies at the University of Warwick in the United Kingdom, to DefenseNews.
— CSIS (@CSIS) July 19, 2015
China responded to the allegations by accusing Japan of trying to "smear China to create tensions in the region." In recent months, China has added about 800 hectares to seven reefs in the area, including an airstrip on Fiery Cross Reef. Almost all of the reefs are also claimed by the Philippines.
The South China Sea's region has become increasingly tense in recent months as nations have pushed back against China's claims over the area. In June, the Philippines and the U.S. held military exercises as the Japanese and Philippine navies started joint training on the island province of Palawan near the South China Sea. Japan is also locked in a dispute with China over a small group of islands in the East China Sea.
In recent days, U.S. military officials have reassured allies that American forces are ready to respond to any conflict in the South China Sea if necessary, the Associated Press reported. "The United States has been very clear that it does not support the use of coercion and force," said Adm. Scott Swift, who oversees command of the Pacific Fleet.