China has claimed that Japan is “preparing for war” as it conducts its first major military exercise in nearly 30 years.
The defense exercise escalated already escalating tensions between the neighbours, threatening to escalate into open conflict as disputes over a chain of strategic islands.
Beijing’s ships and planes have infiltrated dozens this year near the uninhabited Senkaku Islands – known in China as Diaoyu.
Now in a surprise move, Tokyo is pushing back growing aggression and planning new bases to defend the islands.
It has purchased new F-35 jets, converted ships into aircraft carriers and is building new destroyers and submarines.
And this week the nationwide exercise involving 100,000 soldiers from all units of the Japan Ground Self-Defense Force began in a massive display of force.
The exercise – which also involved 20,000 vehicles, 120 aircraft and a US Army landing ship – is the first on this scale since 1993.
According to Japanese media, the exercise is in direct response to “China’s fierce regional assertiveness”.
Beijing is said to be watching the exercises closely and has warned that any conflict will bring “disastrous consequences” for Japan.
NS State Controlled Global Times “Military experts” are quoted as saying that the exercises could be a sign that Japan is “preparing for war”.
It also claimed that Japanese politicians were “lying” to the people, leading to “unjustified hostility and prejudice” against China.
Chinese experts also claimed that Japan lacks the ability to fight back and in any case cannot do anything without the United States having a say.
It comes amid a growing arms race between Asian superpowers, with China and North Korea building hypersonic missiles and high-tech subs.
Kim Jong-un this week tested a new cruise missile and train-launched ballistic missile that he claims is capable of striking Japan.
Fumio Kishida, who is tipped to become Japan’s next prime minister, recently said that his country should acquire preemptive military kits such as fighter jets and missiles to land enemy weapons before they can be launched. .
Tensions have been brewing on the Senkaku Islands for decades.
They are located near important shipping routes and hold valuable reserves of fish and potentially oil and gas.
China has claimed them since the 14th century, and Japan controlled them from 1895 until the end of World War II.
After surrender they were administered by the US until 1972, when they were handed back to Japan.
Tensions escalated again in 2012, leading to massive protests in China.
More recently, Beijing’s growing military expansionism has sparked renewed conflict in the East China Sea.
Tokyo claims that Chinese Coast Guard ships entered Japanese territorial waters 88 times between January 1 and the end of August.
Japan’s Defense Minister Nobuo Kishio told CNN This week his country was ready to defend its territory and draw a red line around the islands.
“Against Chinese action in the Senkaku Islands and other parts of the East China Sea… We have to show that the Japanese government is defending our territory with a greater number of Japanese Coast Guard ships than China,” he said. “
“There is no territorial dispute between Japan and other countries concerning the Senkaku Islands.”
Japan fears China will try to repeat its illegal occupation of an archipelago belonging to the Philippines in the South China Sea, where it has built a new “Great Wall” of fortifications.
Beijing insists there is no dispute over who owns the Senkaku Islands.
China’s foreign ministry said last year, “Diaou Island and its associated islands are an inherent part of China’s territory, and we have an inherent right to patrol and carry out law enforcement activities in these waters.”
China is also engaged in a war of words with Australia, even threatening a nuclear attack in response to a deal with Britain to build submarines.
And Taiwan is on high alert over the threat of invasion, conducting its own defense exercises this week in preparation.