China dispatched naval vessels, aircraft and helicopters to the East China Sea yesterday, flexing its muscles in exercises likely to further stoke a bristling territorial dispute with Japan.
A fleet of 11 vessels, including some warships, along with eight aircraft, were sent to waters off its east coast, China said, in Beijing’s most confrontational act yet in a row that has chilled ties between the regional heavyweights.
The one-day exercises were announced late on Thursday in a dispatch by the official Xinhua news agency that China’s Defense Ministry also posted on its Web site.
State-run China Central Television showed images of several warships and helicopters carrying out maneuvers.
It was unclear where in the East China Sea the exercises were taking place.
The sea is home to tiny islets known as the Diaoyutai Islands (釣魚台) in Taiwan, and the Senkaku Islands in Japan, which are administered by Tokyo, but claimed by Taipei and Beijing.
Tensions in the long-running territorial dispute have soared since the Japanese government’s move last month to formally nationalize the islands by buying three of the islets from their Japanese owners, which triggered anti-Japan protests across China and hit the sales of Japanese-manufactured products.
China has since then taken a number of steps seen as snubbing Tokyo, including refusing to send top officials to a global economic conference in Japan this month.
A Foreign Ministry official in Beijing blamed Tokyo for ratcheting up tension in the region when asked about the exercises at a regular press briefing yesterday.
“The heating up of the dispute over the Diaoyutai Islands between China and Japan is entirely caused by Japan’s illegal act of purchasing the islands,” Foreign Ministry spokesman Hong Lei (洪磊) said.
“The Chinese government’s resolve and determination to safeguard national territorial sovereignty is unswerving,” he added.
China’s exercise yesterday included vessels from the marine surveillance agency and fishery administration, according to the Chinese reports, which did not give a detailed breakdown on the vessels.
“The primary aim [of the exercises] is to strengthen the capacity to safeguard territorial sovereignty and maritime interests,” said Shen Hao (沈浩), a rear admiral in China’s navy, according to the Web site of state-run China Radio International.
Japanese Chief Cabinet Secretary Osamu Fujimura told reporters that Tokyo had few details on the drills.
“We decline to comment on the drill, but we will continue monitoring various Chinese moves,” he said.
Microblog users in China broadly welcomed the naval exercises.
“I suggest going to the Diaoyutai Islands for some heavily armed exercises — it is our own territory,” said one netizen on Weibo, China’s version of Twitter.
“How exciting,” another said. “This is the emergence of Chinese military power.”
Reports this week said Japan and the US were considering holding a joint military drill to simulate retaking a remote island from foreign forces.