The central government's failure to attract candidates for several posts on its coastal patrol vessels has become another battleground in the war of words over the Diaoyu Islands, with Japanese critics calling it proof of China's "fake patriotism".
The Japanese media mocked China yesterday after Fuji Television reported that seven State Oceanic Administration (SOA) posts had received zero applications before a deadline last week.
Six of the openings were for sailors in the SOA bureau in the East China Sea, where vessels from the two rivals have been conducting competing patrols around the disputed Diaoyu, or Senkaku, islands.
The last was a China Marine Surveillance post in the South China Sea, where China has several similar territorial disputes.
Japan's Nihon Keizai noted that the Japan coastguard received a record 16,783 applicants to its vocational schools and colleges this year - a 50 per cent increase over last year.
The figures led Japanese internet users to question the depth of the nationalism behind recent anti-Japanese protests across the mainland.
"They don't want to be sent to the Senkaku Islands to confront the Japan coastguard," said one internet user. "Chinese patriotism is limited merely to verbal protests," said another.
Mainland media, however, chalked up the recruiting failure to the "strict requirements and unattractive pay".
In all, 132 SOA job vacancies did not receive applicants, the party-run People's Daily said on its website.
The Global Times, published by People's Daily, noted that the seven "zero application" jobs required candidates younger than 35 and holding an A-class captain's competency certificate. They also had to be physically fit.
The newspaper said the SOA's sailors earned "too little" to attract enough candidates.
One relative of a captain 8assigned to the SOA's East China Sea bureau said the job pays about 10,000 yuan (HK$12,300) a month, plus extra allowances for patrol missions.
"Compared with Japan's coastguard, the SOA's pay is not enough to attract young people," said Lin Xiaoguang, a professor of international relations at the Central Party School.
He also dismissed the significance of Japan's recruitment numbers.
"The new application record set at Japanese coastguard schools was also driven by intensive reports about how the Chinese media was being so irrational and provocative over the Diaoyus dispute," Lin said.
Professor Peng Xi, of Nanjing University's Institute of Japanese Studies, said that the lack of candidates was merely a reflection of the career goals of young people on the mainland.
"Nowadays young Chinese who apply to civil service jobs just want a stable, comfortable life that will help them cultivate good social connections," Peng said.
"But an SOA sailor spends almost all his time patrolling the high seas. Do you think such a boring and thankless job would be popular?"