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China slams Japan's new defense plan

China has hit out at Japan as the territorial row between the two countries continues. China accused its neighbors of using regional tension as an excuse to beef up defense spending.

Japan’s actions "must cause great concern to neighboring countries in Asia and the international community," Chinese defense ministry spokesman Gen Yansheng said via a statement on Saturday. He added China was "firmly opposed" to Japan’s announcement, accusing Abe of using the increasingly tense relationship between the two nations as an "excuse" to increase defense spending.

Japan’s Prime Minister Shinzo Abe announced on Tuesday his government would spend 24.7 trillion yen ($240 billion or 175 billion euros) on defense between 2014 and 2019, representing a five percent increase to the military budget. On the shopping list are stealth fighters, drones and submarines - all of which could be used to beef up a defense of some of the area’s more remote islands.

Japan "continues to deny its history of World War II aggression, challenge the post-war order, and harm the feelings of the people of those victimized nations," Geng said.

His words might have come as something of a surprise considering those of Japan’s Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida just a day earlier after talks with China’s Ambassador to Japan, Cheng Yonhua. Kishida said that meeting had "confirmed that … bilateral relations are important."

China announced in November it would

establish an air defense identification zone

in the East China Sea, in which non-commercial aircraft must first identify themselves before entering. Failing to do so could see them subject to "defensive emergency measures" by China. In response, Japan, South Korea and the US all subsequently flew military planes through the zone without requesting permission.

Eight uninhabited but under-dispute islands lie within that zone, and the move was denounced soon after by the Japanese Foreign Ministry: "The airspace the Chinese side established today is totally unacceptable and extremely regrettable as it includes the Japanese territorial airspace over the Senkaku Islands [or Diaoyu Islands in Chinese], an inherent territory of Japan," a statement read.

Japan has the support of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) after

a charm offensive by Abe

during a summit of the member nations, while South Korea responded by

extending their defense zone

to partially overlap that established by China.

United States Vice President Joe Biden said earlier in December that China’s move had "caused significant apprehension in the region," and urged President Xi Jinping to "take steps to lower tensions." He said the US would

stand by Japan

in the row.

ph/msh (AP, AFP, Reuters)

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