Shortly after Tokyo announced Thursday that it may have to patrol alongside the U.S. on South China Sea region, Beijing sounded out a warning telling Japan to think twice against “playing with fire” in the contested waters.
The decision from Japan was made public earlier this month when Defence Minister Tomomi Inada said during a visit to Washington that, “Tokyo would increase its engagement in the South China Sea through joint training with the US Navy, exercises with regional navies and capacity-building assistance to coastal nations”.
Tokyo, a key US ally in Asia, is making efforts to build bilateral and multilateral relationships with other countries around the strategic island, having maintained a longstanding territorial battle with Beijing in the East China Sea.
Following the announcement, China’s Defence Ministry described Japan’s move as a calculated plan “to mess up the South China Sea situation and try to gain interests from the troubled waters”.
“If Japan wants to conduct any joint patrol or joint exercises in waters administered by China, it is just like playing with fire, and the Chinese military will not sit and watch,” Yang Yujun [the ministry’s spokesman] said at a press conference.
“We must warn Japan that this is a miscalculation,” the rep was quoted as saying.
According to a report from The Associated Press, China, for the the first time, took a step further to consolidate its superpower status on Monday by sending fighter jets over a strait near Japan–to conduct military exercises.
The Chinese war planes which flew to the West Pacific, were part of a group made up of more than 40 jets.
Japan reportedly scrambled its fighter jets in readiness for war, following the military threats from China on Monday.
Meanwhile an editorial from China’s state-run tabloid Global Times warned of a decaying relationship between the two countries, adding that they are “stuck in a state of cold peace” but advised that “they must avoid sliding into a cold war”.
“While there is no overarching military tension, undercurrents indicate that the two consider each other as an imagined enemy,” the editorial said.
Both China and Japan “are seemingly building psychological readiness toward the possibility of a military clash,” it added.
Amid the growing tension in South China Sea, the head of Japan’s Maritime Self-Defense Force clarified on Monday that Inada’s comments were wrongly interpreted, saying that the proposed “joint training cruises” with the U.S. had already been taking place “for several years”.
“We are not thinking of conducting operations only by ourselves,” Adm. Tomohisa Takei said.
Beijing asserts sovereignty over a big part of the disputed island against claims from its Southeast Asian neighbors, and will not accept any intrusion on its waterways by Japan.
In July, the Permanent Court of Arbitration (PCA) at The Hague passed a ruling against China’s claim on the strategic island which is said to record over $5 trillion in annual trade passes, with Japan’s oil and gas imports taking a large chunk.
In recent months, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has openly criticized China’s decision to ignore a ruling from an international tribunal, saying Beijing’s extensive claims to the waters had no legal basis.