Tokyo: Asian countries should work together to encourage China's increasingly assertive military to obey the rules of the sea, Japan's prime minister has told the Financial Times.

Yoshihiko Noda's comments come against a background of rising tensions in the South and East China Seas, where several countries have competing territorial claims.

"(We will) appeal in all kinds of meetings for China to abide by the rules, he told the paper.  “Pushing for the rules to be followed should be something done in cooperation with all the countries in the area."

Noda, who took office just two months ago, has previously urged Beijing to act as a "responsible member of the international community".

In September he became the latest senior Japanese figure to express concern over the speed and "opaqueness" of China's military build-up, which has seen huge rises in Beijing's military budget over a number of years.

Earlier this year, China announced military spending would rise 12.7 percent to 601.1 billion yuan (USD 91.7 billion) in 2011 after funding slowed last year.

Beijing has repeatedly sought to alleviate fears over its pursuit of sophisticated missiles, satellites, cyber-weapons and fighter jets, stressing that its policy is "defensive in nature".

However, China has become increasingly strident in its claims over the East China Sea and the South China Sea, most of which it views as its maritime territory, but where the Philippines, Vietnam, Malaysia, Brunei and Taiwan have their own claims.

The sea is believed to be extremely rich in oil and gas deposits, as well as being where shipping lanes link East Asia with Europe and the Middle East.

The area has long been considered one of Asia's potential military flash points, and in 1998 Vietnam fought a brief naval battle with China on one of the reefs that left 50 Vietnamese sailors dead.

Tokyo and Beijing, whose ties are often fraught because of differences over history, had a vicious diplomatic spat in September 2010 over disputed islands in the East China Sea.

Japan detained a Chinese fishing boat captain whose vessel had collided with Japanese coastguard ships in waters near the islands. He was later released, but not before relations had been sent into deep freeze.

(Agencies)