China is flexing its military muscle in the South China Sea.
China is flexing its military muscle in the South China Sea. Song fan

Japan raises sea stakes as China builds

A HIGH-stakes poker game is playing out in the East China Sea parallel to the lower stakes game in the South China Sea.

Japan has decided to bolster its Coast Guard to defend East China Sea islands that China also claims and regularly patrols near.

The islands are uninhabited and supposedly under Japanese control.

Wednesday's decision announced by Prime Minister Shinzo Abe aims to urgently and "substantially strengthen the structure and capabilities” of the Coast Guard.

Cabinet is set to approve a $60 billion defence budget. Media reports say upgraded missile defence and new submarine construction are behind the increase.

It comes as China beefs up its military with a boost from this year's $146 billion to $233 billion by 2020.

The increased budget is a response to increasing regional tension over territorial disputes in the South China Sea. Those tensions were on show again last week after the "unlawful seizure” by China of a US Navy underwater drone.

Much of the tension has been fuelled by China building military installations on islands that it has substantially extended with dredged material to provide military-length aircraft runways.

Those islands are now sprouting what are almost certainly gun and missile defence posts.

Principal analyst Craig Caffrey at military specialist IHS Jane's spoke to CNN about China's distinct change of direction.

"A key trend in (the Asia- Pacific region) is the shift from a traditional focus on territorial defence towards power projection,” he said.

"This is new for the region and is likely to increase military-to-military contact between states.”

China's Defence Ministry has cast its actions as arming the "slingshot” against an aggressor "flexing his muscles outside the door”.

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