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China military buildup destabilising -Japan report

Written by: Staff
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TOKYO, Mar 27 (Reuters) China's growing military strength and its tense relationship with Taiwan are major destabilising factors in East Asia, according to a strategy report issued today by a think tank affiliated with Japan's Defence Ministry.

Ties between Japan and China are at their worst state in decades, strained by disputes including Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi's annual visits to Tokyo's Yasukuni shrine. Beijing sees the shrine as a symbol of Japan's past militarism because it honours convicted war criminals along with the country's war dead.

Koizumi today repeated criticism of China's stance, saying the shrine issue should not stand in the way of summit meetings between the two nations.

In an annual report on East Asian strategy, the National Institute for Defence Studies, a government-funded think tank, warned of China's military buildup and its growing pressure on Taiwan under independence-minded President Chen Shui-bian.

''As the modernisation of China's armed forces has been making headway, many observers take the view that the military balance between China and Taiwan is shifting in China's favour,'' the report said.

''The murky relations between China and Taiwan, and an increase in China's military muscle, can be seen as major destabilising factors in East Asia,'' it added.

China's 2.3-million-strong People's Liberation Army is the world's largest standing military, and Beijing said earlier this month that its official defence budget would rise to 283.8 billion yuan in 2006, up 14.7 per cent from 2005.

The nation's military spending has risen by double-digit percentages for the last few years, but US and Japanese defence officials say that China actually spends more on military equipment and forces than the official budget shows.

In December, Japanese Foreign Minister Taro Aso set off a diplomatic furore when he said China's military buildup was a threat given its lack of transparency, prompting an angry reply from Beijing and further straining ties.

The report noted that China has increased the number of short-range ballistic missiles deployed in coastal areas bordering on the Taiwan Strait and that military exercises -- including a first-ever cooperative exercise between Russia and China last year -- appear conceptually aimed at Taiwan.

''Although Beijing seeks to unify Taiwan with mainland China by peaceful means, its continues to modernise its nuclear and missile capabilities, and its naval and air forces, to enable it to prevent Taiwan from becoming independent,'' it added.

China is trying to pursue a strong regional leadership role through forming an East Asian community and trade agreements with Southeast Asian nations, but the report said its relationship with Japan remains stalemated.

Describing bilateral ties as ''cold politically while warm economically,'' the report said the Chinese government's hands are tied by widespread anti-Japanese sentiment among the Chinese public due to bitter memories of Japan's invasion and occupation of parts of China before and during World War Two.

Relations between Tokyo and Beijing have sharply deteriorated since Koizumi took office in 2001 and began annual visits to the Yasukuni shrine.

China has repeatedly said the visits are one of the biggest blocks to bilateral ties, prompting Koizumi on Monday to repeat his criticism of Beijing's stance.

''It makes no sense for China not to hold summit meetings because of the visits to Yasukuni,'' Koizumi told a parliamentary committee, reiterating that he visits to pray for peace.

The two nations are also at odds over energy resources in the East China Sea.

REUTERS SHB ND1412

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