BEIJING - Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda said on Wednesday he was concerned about China's military development, urging his neighbor to act as a "responsible member of the international community".
"I am concerned about their reinforcement of national defense power, which lacks transparency, and their acceleration of maritime activities," Noda told the Japanese parliament.
This is not the first time Noda, labeled as hawkish toward China, has made such statements in public.
In an article published in the latest edition of the Japanese magazine Bungei Shunju, he said China's "high-handed foreign posture ... backed by its military capabilities ... is stoking fears that China will disrupt the order within the region".
"Noda's accusation that China lacks transparency in its military development is invalid as the definition of 'transparency' is ambiguous," said Liu Jiangyong, a professor of Japanese studies at Tsinghua University in Beijing.
"Nations' armed forces are by nature highly confidential."
Yang Bojiang, a professor of Japanese studies at the Beijing-based University of International Relations, said Noda's remarks were partly catering to domestic public opinion, as he got elected at a tough time for Japan.
Yang added that, as a realist, Noda would adopt policies that would protect both national interests and his own leadership, as the ability to successfully manage relations with China has become a yardstick for Japan's leader.
This was evident in Noda's speech to the parliament. Though voicing his concern about China's military development, he also said Japan wants to deepen relations with China in the run-up to next year's 40th anniversary of the restoration of diplomatic ties, adding that he planned to visit China at a convenient time for both sides.
He also altered his stance toward historical problems by pledging he would not visit the Yasukuni Shrine during his premiership.
Before taking office, he said he did not believe Japan's Class A war criminals of World War II were guilty of war crimes.
Yasuo Ichikawa, Japan's new defense minister, has also tried recently to soothe relations.
He said that while the alliance with the United States remains the core of Tokyo's security policy, he wants to improve ties between the armed forces of China and Japan.
"Any mishandling of relations with China will result in criticism by opposition lawmakers, and perhaps from those in his own party as well," Michael Auslin, director of Japan studies at the American Enterprise Institute, said in an article published in the Wall Street Journal.
"Noda cannot afford to isolate Japan any further," Auslin said.
But Noda's reassuring words can hardly offset his remarks on China's military, which will deepen Beijing's distrust about his China policy, said Yang.
Yang said these remarks "send an alarm signal" ahead of his China visit, which could take place as early as next month.
"It added a dimension to Chinese leaders' expectations of their upcoming talks," said Yang.
Gao Yuan contributed to the story.