Abe vows to boost Japan defence amid 'provocations'

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe on Thursday vowed to beef up his country's defence capability amid a blistering row with China, saying he would deal firmly with any "provocations".

Abe, the commander-in-chief of Japan's well-equipped armed forces, told 180 senior uniformed officers he would not bury his head in the sand.

"We can't avert our eyes from the reality... (that there has been) a flurry of provocations against our country's sovereignty," he told troops in an apparent reference to tensions with China over disputed islands.

"I'm pushing for the regeneration of our country's security by looking squarely at reality," the premier said, without elaboration.

Tokyo and Beijing have repeatedly butted heads over the ownership of the Japan-controlled Senkakus, which Beijing claims as the Diaoyus, with official Chinese ships and aircraft regularly testing Japanese forces.

Abe, who had reviewed a guard of honour with defence minister Itsunori Onodera, has long agitated for a more muscular military, and has spoken openly of his desire to reinterpret rules governing its deployment to allow it to play a more active role in any possible conflict.

The prime minister, whose defence ministry is looking for its biggest budget bump in two decades, told troops he planned to form a national security council that will integrate government functions analysing intelligence on defence and diplomacy.

"The power balance of the world is now changing dynamically, and the change has become more obvious in Asia-Pacific than anywhere else," Abe said.

"I will work together with countries that share the values of the rule of law and freedom of the oceans and strengthen our ties in diplomacy and security with them," he added.

In July, Abe pledged to help boost the Philippines' coastguard capability during a visit to Manila, which also has a tense territorial dispute with China.

Onodera said Japan had to be alert to China's growing military strength and said the country needed amphibious armed vehicles to defend its remote islands.

"China has rapidly pushed for modernising its military and rapidly accelerated its maritime activities," Onodera said.

"We will energetically strengthen our surveillance and information-gathering capabilities in areas surrounding our country" in particular waters near the disputed islands, Onodera said.

On Monday, Japan scrambled fighter jets after an unidentified drone flew near the islands. The drone did not enter Japanese airspace.

On Sunday, Japan tracked Chinese bombers that flew in international airspace between two islands in the Okinawa chain. Tokyo said it was the first time they had used that route to get to the Pacific.

Japan nationalised the islands last September, sparking a backlash from Beijing, which has sent its official ships into their waters dozens of times since.