Japan said Tuesday it is closely monitoring attempts by China to boost its global clout, asserting that Beijing has been dispatching medical professionals and providing face masks and assistance to other countries in response to the coronavirus pandemic so as to advance its own interests.

In a defense white paper, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s government criticized Beijing for “relentlessly” attempting to undermine Tokyo’s administration of the Senkaku Islands in the East China Sea, even at a time when international coordination is required to contain the virus.

With the international community grappling with the pandemic, a further spread of the virus “may expose and intensify strategic competition among countries intending to create international and regional orders more preferable to themselves and to expand their influence,” the white paper said.

The report stated that China has been “taking advantage” of its virus-related assistance to other nations in an attempt to advance its political and economic interests, and that Beijing has been engaging in propaganda work such as “spreading disinformation” amid social unrest and confusion sparked by the pandemic.

The moves, therefore, warrant close attention as “security issues,” it said.

Referring to the Senkakus, the document rebuked China over its persistent attempts to “unilaterally change the status quo” in the East China Sea, despite the global expansion of new coronavirus infections calling for “international cooperation and collaboration.”

“Despite protests by our country, Chinese official ships repeatedly intruded into our territorial waters around the Senkaku Islands,” it said.

It is the first time that a defense white paper has characterized China’s actions around the islets — which Beijing claims and calls the Diaoyu — as “relentless.”

The latest report barely mentioned Japan’s decision last month to scrap plans to deploy the U.S.-developed Aegis Ashore missile defense system.

A Defense Ministry official said there was simply no time to put details about the policy shift in the document.

The white paper also referred to China’s unilateral creation of two administrative districts in the South China Sea, in which Beijing has overlapping claims with Brunei, Malaysia, the Philippines, Vietnam and Taiwan.

The two districts are named Xisha and Nansha, using the Chinese names for the disputed Paracel and Spratly Islands, respectively.

Together with militarization of outposts in disputed areas of the strategic waterway, China uses such nonmilitary means to force shifts in the regional status quo, drawing the ire of other claimants, especially as countries are focusing on steps to respond to the pandemic, according to the paper.

Maintaining the expression used last year, it said the international community has “strong security concerns” about Chinese military trends such as “a high level of growth in its defense budget” and a “lack of transparency in its military affairs.”

The document also warned about a nuclear-armed North Korea, saying the county has been continuously advancing development of ballistic missiles at an “extremely rapid pace,” a situation that poses “a grave and imminent threat to the security of Japan.”

Citing the possibility of Scud-ER and Nodong missiles carrying nuclear weapons, the paper said Pyongyang appears to have acquired capabilities to attack Tokyo.

North Korea may be developing a ballistic missile that travels along an irregular trajectory at low altitude in an effort to slip through the missile defense networks of other countries, it said.

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