Japan's leader warned China yesterday against forcibly changing the regional balance of power, as reports said Tokyo had scrambled fighter jets in response to Chinese military aircraft flying near Okinawa.
"We will express our intention as a state not to tolerate a change in the status quo by force. We must conduct all sorts of activities such as surveillance and intelligence for that purpose," Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said in an address to the military.
"The security environment surrounding Japan is becoming increasingly severe. This is the reality," he said. "You will have to completely rid yourselves of the conventional notion that just the existence of a defence force could act as a deterrent."
Abe presided over an inspection of the military at which a US amphibious assault vehicle was displayed for the first time, an apparent sign of Japan's intention to strengthen its ability to protect remote islands.
The defence ministry plans to create a special amphibious unit to protect the southern islands and retake them in case of an invasion.
Jiji Press and Kyodo News reported that Japan had deployed jets for two days running in response to four Chinese military aircraft flying over international waters near the Okinawa island chain. Two Y8 early-warning aircraft and two H6 bombers flew from the East China Sea to the Pacific Ocean and back again but did not violate Japan's airspace, the reports said.
Japan's military is on increased alert as Tokyo and Beijing pursue a war of words over the disputed islands in the East China Sea that lie between Okinawa and Taiwan.
On Saturday, China responded angrily after a report said Japan had drafted plans to shoot down foreign drones that encroached on its airspace if warnings to leave were ignored.
Tokyo drew up the proposals after a Chinese military drone entered Japan's air defence identification zone near the disputed islands in the East China Sea last month, Kyodo said.
"We would advise relevant parties not to underestimate the Chinese military's staunch resolve to safeguard China's national territorial sovereignty," China's Defence Ministry spokesman Geng Yansheng said in comments posted on the ministry's website.
"If Japan takes enforcement measures such as shooting down aircraft, as it says it will, that would constitute a serious provocation, an act of war of sorts, and we would have to take firm countermeasures, and all consequences would be the responsibility of the side that caused the provocation."