Asia-Pacific News

How Japan sees China's island-building 'problem'

China's buildup on islands in the South China Sea is not the act of a responsible member of the global community, a top Japanese official told CNBC.

Japan's Foreign Deputy Minister Shinsuke Sugiyama (L) gestures as he welcomes China's Assistant Minister of Foreign Affairs Liu Jianchao (R) prior to the 13th round of Japan-China Security Dialogue at the Foreign Ministry in Tokyo on March 19, 2015.
Kazuhiro Nogi | AFP | Getty Images

Shinsuke Sugiyama, deputy foreign minister of Japan, said Wednesday that his government views Beijing's seizures and buildup on islands and reefs in the South China Sea as a "problem" for the region.

"We see the unilateral change of status quo as not consistent with ... something that a giant and responsible member of the international community should do," Sugiyama said, adding that his government has taken note of China's claims that the islands are not intended for military use.

South China Sea tensions have steadily been rising since 2014, when China parked an oil rig near Vietnam and began building a reef into an island featuring a functioning landing strip. Many islands in the region are jointly claimed by some combination of China, Vietnam, the Philippines and Malaysia.

Although other countries have built up their own islands in the area, Sugiyama said the establishment of an aircraft-accommodating outpost "is giving us and (neighboring countries) a problem."

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That problem, however, doesn't warrant threats of force, he said, reiterating his government's calls to solve the disputes through "peaceful dialogue."

"We will work to encourage them in that way," he said.

Sugiyama was in New York on Wednesday and joined former Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd in a discussion at the Asia Society about Japan's evolving security stance, and Tokyo's considerations about various geopolitical problems.

When pressed on China by Rudd, the Japanese diplomat emphasized economic concerns rather than military ones.

Beijing is seeking to manage a slowing economy and to maintain internal stability, trying through various means to reduce volatility in its currency and its stock markets.

"The current situation of the Chinese economy is not good for anybody," Sugiyama said. "If this kind of trend does continue, it's not a matter only for China: Of course it must be a big headache, it must be, for Chinese leadership, but it's a matter for the international community as a whole."

Shinsuke said his government's fundamental focus concerning China is how to "let them be engaged further (with the international community) so that their economy is going to reverse and to get better."

China reported in January that its 2015 GDP growth came in at 6.9 percent, but some experts say the actual figure is likely less than 4 percent.