TOKYO - Japan cites concerns about China's rapid militarization including construction of outposts and their military use in the contested waters of the South China Sea, emphasizing the need to protect open and free waters in the government's annual foreign policy report released Friday.
Japan is required "to coordinate with the international community to protect open, free and peaceful waters" amid China's growing assertiveness in the South China Sea, says the Diplomatic Bluebook 2016, which was reported to the Cabinet by Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida.
Many countries including Japan have expressed concerns about China's unilateral acts to change the status quo that heighten tensions in the South China Sea, such as its massive and fast-paced land reclamation, construction of outposts and the use of them for military purposes, the paper says.
The annual document was released as China is in a territorial dispute with smaller Asian claimants, including the Philippines and Indonesia, in the South China Sea where it constructed runways, advanced radars and deployed surface-to-air missiles, deemed as a way to assert maritime interests and territorial claims.
China has repeatedly and especially criticized Japan and the United States, calling them "outsiders" in territorial disputes in the South China Sea.
But the paper says the issue is of "grave concern" to Japan as the country seeks the safety of sea lane and the freedom of navigation and overflight in the South China Sea due to its reliance on imports of energy resources by sea.
Over the situation in the East China Sea, the document reiterates that Japan is determined to protect its territorial land and waters, criticizing Chinese ships' frequent intrusions into waters near the Japanese-controlled Senkaku group of islets in the sea. Beijing claims the islets, calling them Diaoyu.
The paper at the same time also stresses the importance of dialogue with China, saying ties with Beijing are "one of the most important bilateral relationships."
Japan will seek to strengthen bilateral ties with China through dialogue and cooperation at various levels, the paper says, noting that the "two countries share responsibility for regional and international peace and stability."
On South Korea, the paper says ties with Seoul will enter a "new era" of "future-oriented" relations following last year's bilateral deal to settle the issue of Korean women forced to work at wartime Japanese military brothels.
South Korea is Japan's "most important neighbor" which shares strategic interests with Japan, the paper says, adding that friendly relations between the two countries are essential for peace and stability in the Asia-Pacific region.
In December, South Korea and Japan agreed to resolve the so-called "comfort women" issue, a source of a drawn-out dispute between the two countries, "finally and irreversibly" with Tokyo pledging to provide 1 billion yen ($9 million) for a new South Korean foundation aimed at helping aging former comfort women.
But Japan maintains its position that Takeshima, islets that South Korea controls and calls Dokdo, are Japanese territory "based on historical facts and international law," the report says.
The blue book also mentions Japan's relations with Russia, saying Prime Minister Shinzo Abe is eager to move forward negotiations to resolve the decades-old territorial dispute over four Russian-held, Japanese-claimed islands off Hokkaido, which has prevented Tokyo and Moscow from signing a peace treaty following World War II.
The islands -- Etorofu, Kunashiri and Shikotan as well as the Habomai islet group -- were seized by the Soviet Union following Japan's surrender on Aug. 15, 1945. They are called the Southern Kurils in Russia and the Northern Territories in Japan.
The establishment of ties with Russia "contributes to Japanese interests and to regional peace and prosperity," the document says, adding that Japan seeks to realize a visit by Russian President Vladimir Putin at the most appropriate date.
Nuclear and missile development by North Korea remains a source of "direct and grave threat" to Japan's safety and hurts the peace and safety of Northeast Asia and the international community, according to the document, which says Japan will "strongly urge the country to take concrete actions toward denuclearization."
Tokyo will keep pressing Pyongyang to resolve the issue of North Korea's abductions of Japanese nationals in the 1970s and 1980s, it also says.