Tokyo — Prime Minister Shinzo Abe of Japan says Japan will adopt a more assertive leadership role in Asia to counter China’s growing power.
Mr. Abe told the Wall Street Journal in an interview that other countries wanted Japan to stand up to China, without naming any.
“There are concerns that China is attempting to change the status quo by force, rather than by rule of law. But if China opts to take that path, then it won’t be able to emerge peacefully,” said Mr Abe.
“So it shouldn’t take that path, and many nations expect Japan to strongly express that view. And they hope that as a result, China will take responsible action in the international community.”
The Prime Minister said he realized that “Japan is expected to exert leadership not just on the economic front, but also in the field of security in the Asia-Pacific”.
Analysts say the rivalry between China and Japan is a reflection of the power shift created by China’s economic and diplomatic rise while Japan has been in an economic slump for two decades.
Mr. Abe promised policies to counter Japan’s waning influence.
Relations between the two nations has been strained in recent years.
There have been reports that Abe has approved defence plans to use air force planes to intercept and shoot down unmanned Chinese aircraft that ignore warnings to leave Japanese airspace.
Beijing responded yesterday by saying it would consider it “an act of war” if Japan shot down Chinese drones.
“We will undertake decisive action to strike back, with every consequence borne by the side that caused the trouble,” said Chinese defence ministry spokesman Geng Yansheng.
Another issue between the two countries is the dispute over a group of islands in the East China Sea that are controlled by Tokyo, but claimed by Beijing.
China has warned Japan against nationalism in a region where its Second World War-era colonial expansionism is still bitterly remembered.