The Philippines expressed strong support for a rearmed Japan as a counterbalance to China’s growing military assertiveness amid maritime disputes in the region, a statement that could provoke anger from Beijing.

In an interview with the Financial Times, Foreign Secretary Albert Del Rosario said the Philippines would “strongly support” a move from Japan to upgrade its military from its current status as a self defense force.

“We would welcome that very much,” Del Rosario said. “We are looking for balancing factors in the region and Japan could be a significant balancing factor.”

This comes days ahead of elections in Japan where the front-runner, opposition leader Shinzo Abe, pledged to revise the pacifist constitution and said that this would allow its forces more freedom to operate and could change the military balance in Asia.

Since China’s increasing assertiveness in the region, there has been a growing sentiment among political leaders to abandon Japan’s postwar “peace constitution” and conduct a major rearming, analysts said. Despite its pacifism, Japan has the world’s fourth-biggest navy.

The Philippines’ statement also reflect concerns in the region that China’s assertiveness has trumped memories of Japan’s aggressive wartime actions, reports the Financial Times.

China recently issued passports with maps claiming most of the South China Sea. The Philippines refused to stamp the passports and described it as an “excessive claim that violates international law”.