Japan is ready to counter China if it resorts to force in the pursuit of its geopolitical interests, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has said in an interview.
Abe in an interview with the Wall Street Journal published on Saturday said Japan should take the lead in guarding against what he said might be an attempt by China to use force to attain its diplomatic goals.
He said he had realised at recent meetings with South East Asian leaders that the region sought leadership from Tokyo in terms of security amid China's more forthright diplomacy.
"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," he told the paper.
If Japan does resort to enforcement measures like shooting down aircraft, that is a serious provocation to us, an act of war
"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."
A top retired Chinese diplomat said any move by Tokyo to contain China could amount to an attempt to conceal ulterior motives in the region and prove to be "extremely dangerous".
The defence ministry warned Japan not to underestimate China's resolve to take whatever measures were needed to protect itself.
China took issue with a Japanese media report saying Abe had approved a policy for Japan to shoot down foreign drones that ignore warnings to leave its airspace.
"Don't underestimate the Chinese army's resolute will and determination to protect China's territorial sovereignty," Defence Ministry spokesman Geng Yansheng said on the ministry's website.
For more than a year, relations between Beijing and Tokyo have been chilled by a territorial dispute in the East China Sea where China claims a small, uninhabited archipelago administered by Japan under the name of Senkaku, though Beijing calls it Diaoyu.
Ties have taken a further battering over visits by Japanese lawmakers this month to the Yasukuni shrine in Tokyo honouring both war dead and Japanese leaders convicted as war criminals.
One of Abe's first decisions as prime minister has been to increase Japan's defence budget for the first time in 11 years.
Tokyo also plans to hold a large air and sea exercise in November to strengthen the island's defenses, and as a display of might intended for the Chinese.