The Japanese military launched amphibious landing drills involving 34,000 troops in Okinawa yesterday, as Tokyo denied interfering with Chinese naval exercises in the western Pacific.
The 18-day series of drills comes at a time of heightened tensions between the two neighbouring economic powers, which are at odds over possession of the Diaoyu, or Senkaku, islands in the East China Sea.
Six Japanese warships and 380 military planes were expected to take part in the drills, which involved amphibious landings on uninhabited islands similar to the Diaoyus. The drills are taking place on the atoll of Okidaitojima, 400 kilometres southeast of the main Okinawan island and well away from the Diaoyus.
Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has said the country was ready to be more assertive towards China, which began coastguard patrols around the islands last year after the Japanese government bought three of them from a private Japanese owner.
Japan's national broadcaster NHK reported yesterday that land-to-sea missiles from Hokkaido would be shipped to Miyakojima, Okinawa, as part of the exercise. The Japanese Defence Ministry said that no specific country was targeted by the simulation, the report said.
Earlier, the Chinese Defence Ministry had accused Japan of a "dangerous provocation" by shadowing its own drills in the western Pacific.
Japanese Defence Minister Itsunori Onodera told reporters yesterday that Japan had done nothing to interfere with the Chinese exercises.
"We have carried out the usual precautionary observations in accordance with international law," he said. "China's views are unacceptable."
Professor Zhou Yongsheng , a Japan expert at the China Foreign Affairs University, said the risk of an unintentional armed conflict was increasing.
"Onodera's explanation is untenable because it's a very dangerous move for Japan to send its patrol ships and aircraft to keep a close watch on the PLA Navy's live-fire drill in the western Pacific," Zhou said.