Japan said Tuesday it is closely monitoring attempts by China to boost its global clout, with Beijing dispatching medical professionals and providing face masks and assistance to other countries in response to the novel coronavirus pandemic.

In a defense white paper, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's government criticized Beijing for "relentlessly" attempting to undermine Tokyo's administration of the Senkaku Islands in the East China Sea, even at a time when international coordination is required to contain the virus.

It was the first time that a defense white paper has characterized China's actions around the disputed islets -- which Beijing claims and calls Diaoyu -- as "relentless."

File photo taken in September 2012 shows the Japan-controlled Senkaku Islands in the East China Sea. Taiwan and China claim the uninhabited islands as their own. (Kyodo)

With the international community grappling with the pandemic, a further spread of the virus "may expose and intensify strategic competition among countries intending to create international and regional orders more preferable to themselves and to expand their influence," the white paper said.

The report stated that China has been "taking advantage" of its virus-related assistance to other nations in an attempt to advance its political and economic interests, and that Beijing has been engaging in propaganda work such as the "spread of disinformation" amid social unrest and confusion sparked by the pandemic.

The moves, therefore, warrant close attention as "security issues," it said.

Referring to the Senkakus, the document rebuked China over its "unilateral attempts to change the status quo" in the East China Sea despite the global expansion of novel coronavirus infections calling for "international cooperation and collaboration."

"Despite protests by our country, Chinese official ships repeatedly intruded into our territorial waters around the Senkaku Islands," it said.

Defense Minister Taro Kono told a press conference that Beijing has been attempting to alter the status quo "at various places" in the world, such as areas along the China-India border as well as the East and South China seas.

"Along with the country's capability, we need to grasp clearly what China's intention is," Kono said.

Japanese Defense Minister Taro Kono. (Kyodo)

The latest report barely mentioned Japan's decision last month to scrap plans to deploy the U.S.-developed Aegis Ashore missile defense system.

A Defense Ministry official said there was simply no time to put details about the policy shift in the document.

The white paper also referred to China's unilateral creation of two administrative districts in the South China Sea, in which Beijing has overlapping claims with Brunei, Malaysia, the Philippines, Vietnam and Taiwan.

The two districts, named Xisha and Nansha, use the Chinese names for the disputed Paracel and Spratly Islands, respectively.

Together with militarization of outposts in disputed areas of the strategic waterway, China uses such nonmilitary means to force shifts in the regional status quo, drawing the ire of other claimants, especially as countries are focusing on steps to respond to the coronavirus pandemic, according to the document.

Maintaining the expression used last year, the white paper said the international community has "strong security concerns" about Chinese military trends such as "high-level growth of its defense budget without transparency."

The document also warned about a nuclear-armed North Korea, saying the county has been continuously advancing development of ballistic missiles at an "extremely rapid pace," a situation that poses "grave and imminent threats to Japan's security."

Citing the possibility of Scud-ER and Nodong missiles carrying nuclear weapons, the paper said Pyongyang appears to have acquired capabilities to attack Tokyo.

North Korea may be developing a ballistic missile that travels in an irregular trajectory at low altitude in an effort to slip through the missile defense networks of other countries, it said.