HONG KONG -- Beijing's relations with Tokyo, already strained by the intrusion of a Chinese nuclear submarine into Japanese territorial waters last month, have been worsened by Japan's release on Dec. 10 of a new National Defense Program Outline that for the first time names China as a potential threat.

"China, which has significant influence on the region's security, is pushing forward its nuclear and missile capabilities and modernization of its navy and air force," the document said. "It is also trying to expand its scope of naval activities and attention must be paid to these developments."

While Foreign Minister Nobutaka Machimura denied that Japan viewed China as a threat, saying that the document only "mentioned the need to pay attention to security issues regarding China," the significance of the document, which sets out Japan's defense policies for the coming decade, is quite obvious. Aside from China, North Korea was the only other country singled out for special attention.