Japan's newest warship is covered with decoration tape and confetti as it is pictured during a launch ceremony in Yokohama on Tuesday. Photo: AFP
Related report: Japan more ambitious in its military goals
China on Tuesday called on Japan to abide by its policy of peaceful development and warned against its military expansion after Tokyo unveiled its biggest warship since World War II on the 68th anniversary of the atomic bombing of Hiroshima.
"We are concerned over Japan's constant expansion of its military equipment. Japan's Asian neighbors and the international community need to be highly vigilant about this trend," the Chinese defense ministry told the Global Times.
"Japan should learn from history, adhere to its policy of self-defense and abide by its promise to take the road of peaceful development," it said.
Japan on Tuesday held a ceremony in the port city of Yokohama to launch the country's new-generation 22DDH-class helicopter carrier.
With a length of 248 meters, the $1.14 billion carrier, named Izumo, has a full load displacement of 27,000 tons, with its flight deck being able to carry up to 14 helicopters.
The Izumo, scheduled to enter service in March 2015, is the third helicopter carrier to be used by the Japan Maritime Self-Defense Force. But the new warship marks a major improvement in size and capability as it is almost 50 percent larger than the current Hyuga-class carriers.
The Japanese-built carrier could play a major role in disaster and rescue missions, as well as defending sea lanes and sovereignty claims, the Japanese defense ministry has said.
The launch of the warship came as Japan is embroiled in an island dispute with China in the East China Sea and the Japanese government is mulling a change of interpretation to Japan's pacifist constitution to grant its military a bigger role.
Li Daguang, a professor at the National Defense University of the People's Liberation Army, told the Global Times that Japan's 22DDH helicopter carrier is actually capable of conducting military operations as an aircraft carrier, but due to restraints by the country's constitution, Japan is unable to equip it with fighter jets.
Japan was defeated in World War II and according to its post-war constitution, it is not allowed to possess offensive weaponry, such as nuclear submarines or aircraft carriers.
"But since it still carries large numbers of advanced attack and anti-submarine helicopters and other weapons, the vessel can still be seen as an aircraft carrier in disguise," Li noted.
Li said the Izumo could significantly improve the combat capability of the Japan Maritime Self-Defense Force and could potentially change the power balance between China and Japan's naval forces.
"Japan tops the world in terms of its anti-submarine capability and the warship would further consolidate its advantage," he said.
China inaugurated its first aircraft carrier, the approximately 300-meter long Liaoning, in September 2012. It was built around a Soviet-era hull and can carry an estimated 50 fighter jets.
But Li said that the two vessels cannot be compared. "The Liaoning was mainly built for training purposes while the Izumo was built for a real war."
Japan's military right-wing shift is the natural result of the country's political right-wing shift, said Liu Jiangyong, deputy head of the Institute of Modern International Relations at Tsinghua University.
He told the Global Times that the launch of the new warship, a de facto aircraft carrier, without the approval of the Japanese Diet is an effort by Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's government to break the limits of its peaceful constitution.
"Tokyo wanted to use such an established fact to tell the Japanese public that Japan's constitution has in reality been revised," he added.
In addition to Japan's military buildup, neighboring countries are also concerned about Tokyo's attitude toward its militaristic past.
Abe on Tuesday declined to confirm whether he will visit the controversial Yasukuni Shrine on August 15, the anniversary of Japan's surrender during the World War II, but said his cabinet ministers are free to go.
"I will not respond whether I will visit. Whether cabinet ministers will visit in their private capacity is an issue of their belief. So they are free" to go, he was quoted by Japan's Kyodo News as saying. "I will not request my ministers to visit or not to visit [the shrine]. I should not do that."
Government and ruling party sources told Kyodo last week that Abe would not visit Yasukuni on the anniversary to refrain from worsening Japan's relations with China and South Korea.
AFP contributed to this story