Chinese state media has reacted with fearful outrage at Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's move to let troops engage in collective self-defence and called for a response that would make Japan "feel daunted".
The decision to re-interpret Japan's pacifist Constitution to allow its troops to go to the defence of an ally is proof that the Abe administration and its American backers want to see turmoil in the region, it said.
"Generations of Japanese right-wing politicians have staged a relay race to amend the pacifist Constitution," wrote the nationalist Global Times.
"They proclaimed the right to send soldiers overseas, and now it is the right to exercise force. Abe has almost fulfilled this task, and the Peace Constitution will become nothing but a figurehead."
It added: "It's hard to say how far it will go, but what we need to do is to be ready in a way that makes Japan feel daunted."
A China Daily editorial labelled the move as one that opens a "Pandora's box" in East Asia, referring to the fabled Greek artefact that was said to contain all the evil in the world.
Last December, after Abe made a visit to the controversial Yasukuni Shrine, which commemorates Japan's wartime dead including 14 war criminals, Beijing coordinated a global public relations campaign where its ambassadors penned articles in over 40 foreign publications decrying Abe's re-militarisation agenda.
In 2012, after Japan nationalised the disputed Diaoyu/ Senkaku islands in the East China Sea, large-scale protests erupted across China and the Chinese government reportedly held back rare-earth exports to Japan.
But mainland observers interviewed by The Straits Times yesterday urged the Chinese government to take a wait-and-see approach this time and avoid over- reacting to the re-interpretation, approved by the Japanese Cabinet on Tuesday.
It is now expected to be passed by the Japanese Parliament in which Abe's coalition controls the majority of seats.
There is widespread opposition to the move, both internationally and within Japan, said mainland analysts.
China should recognise and encourage this organic opposition rather than harden bilateral relations, they argued.
"Of course, China is worried. This change allows Japan to fire the first shot, which it said it would not do again after World War II," said Fudan University Sino-Japan expert Feng Wei.
"But we should not let fiery, nationalistic rhetoric and actions dominate China's response, as this overlooks the fact that surveys show that a big portion of Japanese oppose (the change)."
China must also continue to stress to the international community its desire for peaceful development to gain support, he said.
Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Hong Lei said on Tuesday that "people cannot but question whether Japan is deviating from the path of peaceful development that it has been upholding since the end of World War II".
He urged Japan to "respect the legitimate security concerns of its Asian neighbours" but made clear that the Japanese public has the final say.
"During this whole process of approving the re-interpretation, the Japanese government has never mentioned China although everyone knows that China's rise is a big factor," said Prof Lian Degui from the Shanghai Institutes for International Studies.
"But there are also other factors such as Japan wanting to be a 'normal' country. Since nothing is as yet pointed at China, China need not do anything."
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