A Chinese officer looks on at a helicopter in the southern Chinese city of Zhuhai.
A Chinese officer looks on at a helicopter in the southern Chinese city of Zhuhai. Reuters

China has unveiled a sophisticated new helicopter at a time of rising military tensions with Japan.

The Z-20 helicopter appears to be modelled on the US Black Hawk and makes use of noise reduction technology to improve the aircraft's stealth characteristics and expand its reconnaissance and anti-submarine capabilities.

The medium-sized helicopter reportedly made its maiden flight at an undisclosed location on 23 December and its unveiling comes as both China and Japan strengthen their forces along the heavily disputed chain of island territories in the East China Sea.

Observers believe that the helicopter may give China a competitive advantage over Japan in the nations' dispute over the Senkaku Islands, which are known in China as the Diaoyu Islands.

Aviation specialist Wang Ya'nan told the official China Daily that the helicopter would enable China to launch "low-altitude airborne assaults by taskforces".

Ya'nan added that the aircraft can be deployed on any suitable frigate, destroyer, amphibious assault ship or carrier.

Chinese vessels patrol the East China Sea
Chinese vessels patrol the East China Sea during a joint navy drill involving eight planes and over 1,000 military personnel. Reuters file photo

The unveiling of the Z-20 coincides with the recent release of propaganda photographs depicting China's first aircraft carrier, the Liaoning, returning to port escorted by a fleet of warships.

China also recently announced that Japan's conservative prime minster Shinzo Abe was not welcome in Beijing because of his recent controversial visit to the Yasukuni shrine in Tokyo, which honours all 2.5 million of Japan's war dead, including 14 men convicted of Class A war crimes in the aftermath of the second world war.

Last week, Tokyo announced plans to deploy its first three Global Hawk surveillance drones at an airbase in northern Japan in early 2015. The drones are able to stay in the air for 30 hours and observe air, sea and missile activity more than 300 miles away.

Watch video footage of the related Chinese Z-10 helicopter below: