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China points finger at U.S. over Asia-Pacific tensions

Members of the People's Liberation Army's navy guard of honour prepare to use a string to ensure that soldiers stand in a straight line befo
Members of the People's Liberation Army's navy guard of honour prepare to use a string to ensure that soldiers stand in a straight line befo

By Ben Blanchard

BEIJING (Reuters) - China's defense ministry made a thinly veiled attack on the United States on Tuesday for increasing tensions in the Asia-Pacific by ramping up its military presence and alliances in the region, days after the top U.S. diplomat visited Beijing.

China is uneasy with what the United States has called the "rebalancing" of forces as Washington winds down the war in Afghanistan and renews its attention further east.

China says the policy has emboldened Japan, the Philippines and Vietnam in longstanding territorial disputes with Beijing.

China faces "multiple and complicated security threats" despite its growing influence, the Ministry of Defense said in its annual white paper, adding that the U.S. strategy meant "profound changes" for Asia.

"There are some countries which are strengthening their Asia Pacific military alliances, expanding their military presence in the region and frequently make the situation there tenser," the ministry said in the 40-page document, in a clear reference to the United States.

Such moves "do not accord with the developments of the times and are not conducive towards maintaining regional peace and stability", ministry spokesman Yang Yujun told reporters.

The official People's Liberation Army Daily went further, saying in a commentary on Monday that China needed to beef up its defenses to deal with a hostile West bent on undermining it.

"Hostile Western forces have intensified their strategy to westernize and split China, and employed every possible means to contain and control our country's development," it said.

On Monday, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry defended the re-orientation of U.S. foreign policy towards Asia as he ended a trip to the region dominated by concerns about North Korea's nuclear program.

While China has been angered by North Korea's behavior, including its third nuclear test in February, it has also made clear it considers U.S. displays of force in response to Pyongyang's behavior to be a worrisome development.

China is North Korea's most important diplomatic and financial backer -- the two fought together in the 1950-53 Korean war -- although the ministry's Yang would not be drawn on the subject aside from repeating a call for peace and dialogue.

JAPAN "MAKING TROUBLE"

China's own military moves have worried others in the region, too.

China unveiled another double-digit rise in military expenditure last month, to 740.6 billion yuan ($119 billion) for 2013, and is involved in protracted and often ugly disputes over a series of islands in the East and South China Seas.

"On the issues concerning China's territorial sovereignty and maritime rights and interests, some neighboring countries are taking actions that complicate or exacerbate the situation, and Japan is making trouble over the Diaoyu Islands issue," the white paper said.

Japan's government said it had lodged a protest with Beijing about that comment. "There exists no territorial issue to be solved over the Senkaku", Deputy Chief Cabinet Secretary Hiroshige Seko said in Tokyo.

The dispute with Japan over the uninhabited islands, which China calls the Diaoyu and Japan calls the Senkaku, has escalated in recent months to the point where China and Japan have scrambled fighter jets and patrol ships shadow each other.

The waters around the islands in the East China Sea are rich fishing grounds and have potentially huge oil and gas reserves.

Vietnam, Taiwan, Brunei, Malaysia and the Philippines also have conflicting claims with China in parts of the South China Sea. China lays claim to almost the whole of the sea, which is criss-crossed by crucial shipping lanes.

The U.S. shift comes as China boosts military spending and builds submarines, surface ships and anti-ship ballistic missiles as part of its naval modernization, and has tested emerging technology aimed at destroying missiles in mid-air.

China has repeatedly said the world has nothing to fear from its military spending, which it says is needed for legitimate defensive purposes in a complex and changing world, and that the sums spent pale in comparison with U.S. defense expenditure.

(Additional reporting by Michael Martina and Kiyoshi Takenaka in TOKYO; Editing by Paul Tait and Alex Richardson)

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