By Kiyoshi Takenaka
ASAKA, Japan, Oct 27 (Reuters) - Prime Minister Shinzo Abetold Japanese troops on Sunday that Japan would not tolerate theuse of force to change the region's status quo, comments likelyto rile Beijing which is locked in a long and bitter territorialdispute with Tokyo.
"Use of force for changing the status quo" is an expressionoften used by Japanese politicians and security experts toindirectly refer to what they see as China's aggressive maritimeexpansion in the East China Sea and the South China Sea.
Abe's comments are the second in as many days in which hehas effectively said Japan is ready to be more assertive towardsChina. They came as China military aircraft flew near Japan fora third day in a row, prompting Tokyo to scramble fighter jetseach time.
Abe is seen as a hawkish nationalist who wishes to revise apost-war pacifist constitution drafted by the United States andstrengthen Japan's defence posture.
His comment on Sunday, made at an annual troops review,comes after the Chinese Defence Ministry warned Japan not tounderestimate China's resolve to take whatever measuresnecessary to protect itself.
"Development of weapons of mass destruction and ballisticmissiles by North Korea. Provocation against our sovereignty.The security environment surrounding Japan is getting tougher,"Abe told the military review, which consisted of some 3,900troops, 240 vehicles and 50 aircraft.
"In order to show our firm national intention that changingthe status quo by force will not be tolerated, we need to carryout various activities such as surveillance and informationgathering."
Ties between Asia's two largest economies deterioratedsharply after Japan bought three of the disputed East China Seaislets, called the Senkaku in Japan and Diaoyu in China, from aprivate owner in September 2012, sparking large protests andboycotts of Japanese goods across China.
Patrol ships from both countries have been shadowing eachother near the islets, raising fears that an accidentalcollision or other unintended incident could develop into alarger clash.
Abe said Japanese troops should discard the notion that allthey should do in peace time was train, calling on them tocontribute to peace and stability.
"It is your responsibility to resolutely defend the people'slives and property as well as our territory, waters andairspace, and to contribute to the world's peace and stability,"Abe said.
"I need you to discard such old notions that all you need todo in a peace time is training, and that defence forces can be adeterrent just by existing."
In the latest sign of tensions between the region's twoheavyweights, Japan on Sunday scrambled fighter jets after twoChinese bombers and two airborne early warning planes flew nearJapan's southern islands into the Pacific and then back into theEast China Sea. No violation of Japanese airspace took place.
The same formation of Chinese aircraft made similar flightson Friday and Saturday.
A Japanese Defence Ministry spokesman said it was quite rarefor Chinese planes to fly close enough to Japan to triggerJapanese scrambles for three days in a row while maintaining thesame formation and taking the same route.
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