Chinese People's Liberation Army (PLA) Navy
Chinese People's Liberation Army (PLA) Navy fires a salute during a commemoration ceremony for soldiers killed during the First Sino-Japanese WarReuters

A Chinese state-controlled newspaper has run an opinion piece by a military expert urging Beijing to develop its naval forces, for a third world war might break out over sea disputes, with China on the frontlines.

Writing in the Global Times, Han Xudong, at China's top military university - the PLA National Defense University - said the government should increase its sea power if it wants to protect national interests in volatile times.

"Judging from the contention of the global sea space, the Arctic Ocean, the Pacific, and the Indian Ocean have seen the fiercest rivalry. It's likely that there will be a third world war to fight for sea rights," Han wrote.

"As the rivalry on the sea grows intense, China's military development should shift from maintaining the country's rights on the land to maintaining its rights on the sea."

The author noted that the long-range or overseas combat capabilities of the Chinese air force and navy "are quite limited" and thus need to be boosted or the country would risk being "pushed into a passive position where it is vulnerable to attacks".

"The development of China's sea power touches the nerves of many countries," Han conceded, who then concluded that nevertheless Beijing "must bear a third world war in mind when developing military forces, especially the sea and air forces."

The Global Times is a publication renowned for its nationalist rhetoric and hawkish editorials.

For example, in May 2014 the Communist Party mouthpiece wrote that Beijing should consider using force against Vietnam and the Philippines to settle a dispute over territories in the South China Sea.

China is embroiled in a series of tense territorial disputes with many of its neighbours.

Beijing's claims over virtually the entire South China Sea have caused growing tensions with Vietnam, the Philippines, Brunei, Taiwan, and Malaysia.

To the north in the East China Sea, Beijing is squabbling with Japan over a group of inhabited islets (known as Diaoyu in Chinese and Senkaku in Japanese), and with South Korea over a submerged shelf.

Land-wise, Beijing is arguing with India over the Ladakh region of eastern Kashmir.