China said it was normal for its marine surveillance aircraft to fly over the disputed Diaoyu islands after Japan scrambled fighter jets to intercept the Chinese aircraft early on Thursday.
Within hours of the incident, Communist Party of China (CPC) general secretary was quoted by the state media as ordering the largest armed forces in the world, People’s Liberation Army (PLA) to be ready to win “regional wars.”
China and Japan are locked in a dispute over the ownership of the Diaoyu (which the Japanese call Senkaku) islands in the East China Sea but it was for the first time that aircraft from both countries were involved in the row.
Thursday also marked the 75th anniversary of the beginning of an episode known as the Nanjing Massacre, when the Japanese Imperial Army troops entered Nanjing, the then-Chinese capital and triggered large-scale violence.
Earlier in the day, eight Japanese F-15 fighter jets flew out after a Japanese coast guard ship spotted the Chinese aircraft over the islands.
Agencies from Tokyo said four maritime surveillance vessels were logged in waters around the islands earlier in the day, the coastguard said, adding it had ordered them to leave.
Such confrontations have become commonplace since Japan nationalised the East China Sea islands in September, a move it insisted amounted to nothing more than a change of ownership of what was already Japanese territory.
But Beijing later dismissed the incident.
“The Diaoyu Island and its affiliated islets are an inalienable part of China’s territory, and it’s completely normal for a Chinese marine surveillance plane to fly over them,” Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Hong Lei told a regular press conference in Beijing.
He also urged Japan to stop its illegal operations in the waters and space concerning the islands.
Hong pointed out that the current severe difficulties in China-Japan relations are the result of Japan’s illegal purchase of the Diaoyu Islands, and he called on the Japanese government to correct its mistakes by showing sincerity and taking action through dialogue and negotiation.
Meanwhile, Xi also the head of the powerful Central Military Commission has ordered the PLA to intensify its “real combat” awareness to win regional wars, state-run Xinhua reported on Thursday.