The Chinese military is advancing capabilities for conducting "gray zone" operations, aggressive acts that, however, fall short of an armed attack, in contested waters, the think tank of the Japanese Defense Ministry warned Friday.

The Communist Party of China has been strengthening the armed forces and nonmilitary organizations via restructuring and reforms under the leadership of President Xi Jinping, the National Institute for Defense Studies said in its China Security Report 2023.

Photo taken on June 30, 2022, shows a Chinese navy's guided missile destroyer in the East China Sea. (Photo courtesy of the Japanese Defense Ministry's Joint Staff)(Kyodo)

Beijing is seeking to "create gray zone situations constantly and exert pressure on opponents as it avoids military clashes with other countries," the annual report said.

China's capabilities in gray zone situations have seen improvements, which the report said stemmed from integrating the China Coast Guard and maritime militia into the military command.

The report also cited the buildup of the groups' equipment.

Its release came as Tokyo and Beijing have been at loggerheads over the Senkaku Islands, a group of East China Sea islets administered by Japan but claimed by China.

China has been sending official vessels into Japanese territorial waters around the islands in an attempt to assert its claim over what it calls Diaoyu.

"The coast guard and maritime militia have stepped up activities since the 2010s," said Shinji Yamaguchi, a senior research fellow at the institute and one of the authors of the report.

"They have also weaponized activities," Yamaguchi told journalists.

In 2018, the China Coast Guard was placed under the Chinese People's Armed Police Force, a paramilitary force supervised by the country's Central Military Commission.

The coast guard employs a more hardline stance in the South China Sea, in which Beijing has conflicting territorial claims with neighboring countries such as the Philippines and Vietnam, than in the East China Sea, according to the report.

China has been also putting more efforts into "influence operations" through social media activities and other means in an attempt to "correct Western 'misperceptions' and actively disseminate Chinese perspectives and narratives at home and abroad," it said.

Spreading fake news and other influence operations against Taiwan are the "most conspicuous example," which the report said have posed "a major threat" to the self-ruled democratic island.

China regards Taiwan as a breakaway province to be reunified with the mainland, by force if necessary.