A Chinese maritime surveillance aircraft based in Shanghai will expand its coverage this year to include areas of the East China Sea disputed with Japan, according to recent reports by local media.

The reports quote officials of the Shanghai Maritime Safety Administration as saying the range of the twin-engine Harbin Y-12 now includes what China claims as its 200-nautical-mile exclusive economic zone.

That would encompass the disputed territory centered on the Senkaku Islands, as well as areas between the two countries where China has been drilling for natural gas, angering Japan.

Under the U.N. Convention of the Law of the Sea, countries are entitled to claim 200 nautical miles from their shores as their EEZs. The zones claimed by China and Japan overlap.

According to the Defense Ministry's latest white paper, China has been expanding and intensifying its maritime activities near Japan in recent years, with its ships engaging in gathering intelligence as well as monitoring activities for the protection of maritime rights and interests.

"Attention needs to be paid," the white paper said, "to the operation of (Chinese) naval vessels and various surveillance operations near Japan" as well as China's "development of facilities that serve as bases for these activities."

The paper noted that China's military has defined, in its own 2010 defense white paper, the safeguarding of national maritime rights and interests as one of the major goals of the country's defense policy.

It also pointed out that China practices an administration system of sharing responsibilities between the military and local authorities, including those involved in maritime surveillance, in border and coastal defense.