Japanese Prime Minsiter Shinzo Abe. (Jiji Press / AFP)
BEIJING — China’s government and media launched a broadside Wednesday against Japan’s move to loosen the bonds on its powerful military, casting it as a threat to Asian security.
The criticism came one day after Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said his cabinet had formally endorsed a reinterpretation of a constitutional clause banning the use of armed force except in very narrowly-defined circumstances.
“We urge Japan to follow its path of peaceful development and be prudent in handling relevant issues, honestly respect the legitimate security concerns of Asian countries and refrain from doing anything which may jeopardize regional peace and stability,” said Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Hong Lei.
Beijing had expressed its concern to Tokyo “on many occasions” over the rule change, he added. “We ask Japan not to infringe on China’s sovereignty and security interests.”
China’s state-run media used significantly stronger language in denouncing the move.
“The Japanese government is eager to break through the post-war system,” wrote the ruling Communist Party’s flagship People’s Daily newspaper in an editorial penned under the name “Zhong Sheng,” a homophone for “Voice of China.”
It called the Abe government’s move “a dangerous signal, as well as a wake-up call.”
In a commentary late Tuesday, China’s official Xinhua news agency challenged Tokyo with a question: “Is China on your military agenda?”
“Japan has a history of making sneaky attacks, as it did in launching wars with China, Russia and the United States in the recent 100 years,” Xinhua wrote. “Now, Japan, with greater freedom to use military force, is making the world more worried.”
China, home to the world’s largest military, far outnumbers rival Japan in manpower, ships, aircraft and defense spending.
China’s official defense budget last year came to $119.5 billion, while according to the International Institute for Strategic Studies’ Military Balance 2014 report, released in February, Japan’s total was $51 billion.
Tokyo and Beijing have long been at odds over islands in the East China Sea, and Beijing has argued that a reinterpretation of Japan’s pacifist constitution could open the door to re-militarization of a country it considers insufficiently penitent for its actions in World War II.
The state-run China Daily newspaper wrote that “the recalcitrant attempts by Japanese politicians, including Abe, to rewrite history and their country’s unseemly record in World War II are reminders that Japan doesn’t deserve being treated as a normal country”.
China’s nationalistic Global Times, which is close to the ruling Communist Party, ran a cartoon on Wednesday depicting Abe as the American movie action hero Rambo, with a Japanese flag bandanna tied around his forehead and wielding a large machine gun.
“Both Tokyo and Washington wish to see more disturbances in Asia, as the US hopes it will hinder China’s rise and Japan wants to seek opportunities to realize its rise both politically and militarily,” the paper wrote.
“China needs to expose the Japanese rightists’ evil intent.”