In a recent interview, Japanese PM Shinzo Abe says other countries want Japan to adopt a more assertive leadership role in Asia to counter the growing power of China.
Shinzo Abe told the Wall Street Journal there were “concerns that China was trying to change the status quo by force, rather than by the rule of law”.
Relations between China and Japan have been strained over recent years.
China said on Saturday that if Japan shot down Chinese drones, this would be considered “an act of war” by Beijing.
The statement was referring to reports that PM Shinzo Abe had approved defense plans that envisaged using air force planes to shoot down unmanned Chinese aircraft in Japanese airspace.
Another contentious issue between the two countries is the dispute over a group of islands.
The islands, in the East China Sea, are controlled by Tokyo, but claimed by Beijing.
However, analysts say the nations’ rivalry reflects the power shift created by China’s meteoric economic and diplomatic rise while Japan has been mired in a two-decade economic slump.
China has warned against Japanese nationalism in a region where Japan’s colonial expansionism is still bitterly remembered.
In the interview, Shinzo Abe said he had realized that “Japan is expected to exert leadership not just on the economic front, but also in the field of security in the Asia-Pacific”.
The prime minister promised policies to counter Japan’s waning influence.
Other countries wanted Japan to stand up to China, Shinzo Abe said without naming any.
“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,” Shinzo Abe says.
“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.”
The interview comes days after Shinzo Abe was reported to approved defense plans to intercept and shoot down foreign unmanned aircraft that ignore warnings to leave Japanese airspace.
On Saturday, China’s defense ministry responded saying: “If Japan does resort to enforcement measures like shooting down aircraft, that is a serious provocation to us, an act of war.”
“We will undertake decisive action to strike back, with every consequence borne by the side that caused the trouble,” spokesman Geng Yansheng said on the ministry’s website.