The Chinese military, the world's largest, has embarked upon an ambitious modernisation programme in recent years. That, along with rising defence spending, has jangled nerves around the region. China says it is a threat to nobody, but needs to update outdated equipment and has to be able to defend what is now the world's second largest economy.

In a front page editorial, the official People's Liberation Army Daily said the world was facing unprecedented changes. "The situation surrounding our country is generally stable, but the risks and challenges are extremely severe, and the possibility of chaos and war on our doorstep has increased," it said. "The maritime security environment is more complicated, and the undercurrents in the East and South China Seas have been gushing up," the daily wrote.

China has become increasingly assertive in its dispute with Japan over a group of uninhabited islets in the East China Sea, while in the South China Sea it has been reclaiming land in waters where Vietnam, the Philippines, Taiwan, Malaysia and Brunei all have competing claims.

China also looks warily at threats from extremists in countries like Afghanistan, the possibility of war on the Korean peninsula, instability on the border with Myanmar and India, and the festering question of the status of self-ruled Taiwan.

China claims Taiwan as its own and has never renounced the use of force to bring it under its control. Defeated Nationalist forces withdrew to the island after loosing a civil war with the Communists in 1949.

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