In this file photo, the USS John S. McCain (DDG 56) destroyer is moored in a dock at the Yokosuka Naval Base in Yokosuka, Japan

BEIJING: China yesterday branded the United States an "out-and-out security risk creator" in the South China Sea, after an American warship sailed through waters near the disputed Paracel Islands. Tensions in maritime waters claimed by both China and many of its neighbors have ratcheted up recently, with Beijing staging live-fire drills and sending hundreds of fishing vessels to a reef claimed by the Philippines. China's military said the USS Curtis Wilbur, a guided missile destroyer, was warned and driven away from the contested waters near the islands, which are claimed by China.

US actions "increase regional security risks, which easily causes misunderstandings, misjudgements and unforeseen maritime incidents", People's Liberation Army Southern Theatre Command spokesman Colonel Tian Junli said in a notice posted on social media. "This is unprofessional and irresponsible, and fully demonstrates that the US is an out-and-out 'South China Sea security risk creator'." Beijing on Wednesday had chastised Washington for sailing the USS Curtis Wilbur through the Taiwan Strait earlier this week. The US Seventh Fleet described it as a "routine" transit.

The United States frequently conducts what it calls "Freedom of Navigation Operations" in the flashpoint waterway. The South China Sea and its various islands are claimed by multiple countries including China, Taiwan, Vietnam, Japan, Malaysia and the Philippines. It is home to some of the world's most resource-rich waterways.

Tokyo must boost its military at a "radically different pace" than in the past to counter Beijing's growing capacity, Japan's defense minister said in an interview published yesterday. Nobuo Kishi warned the gap between Japan and China's military was "growing by the year," in an interview with the Nikkei newspaper.

"We must increase our defense capabilities at a radically different pace than in the past," he said, citing China's military spending as well as new areas of warfare including space, cyber and electromagnetics. Japan's defense spending has tended to hover at around one percent of GDP, but Kishi said that spending would be guided by needs rather than caps. "The security environment surrounding Japan is changing rapidly with heightened uncertainty," the Nikkei quoted him as saying.

"We will properly allocate the funding we need to protect our nation." Japan's post-war constitution limits the scope of its military to defensive power, and efforts to boost capacity have sometimes been controversial domestically. Kishi's comments come with Japan increasingly concerned about the regional security environment and particularly China's growing assertiveness. The military balance between Japan and China has "leaned heavily toward China in recent years, and the gap has been growing by the year," he told the paper.

Kishi also said Japan considers issues related to Taiwan "as our own problem", as China increases pressure on the self-ruled island territory, which Beijing sees as a rebel province. Japan has been more vocal in recent months about Chinese moves in regional waters, and particularly the presence of coastguard ships around disputed islands in the East China Sea.

In talks last month, Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga and US President Joe Biden discussed concerns over Beijing's maritime moves, as well as clampdowns in Hong Kong and Xinjiang, and growing tension over Taiwan. The United States has long pressed Japan and its allies to increase their military capacity. - AFP