State media yesterday called for "timely countermeasures" to be taken "without hesitation" if Japan violates the country's newly declared air zone, after Beijing sent fighter jets to patrol the area following defiant military overflights by Tokyo.
Japan and South Korea both said on Thursday that they had disregarded the air defence identification zone (ADIZ) that Beijing declared last weekend, showing a united front after unarmed US B-52 bombers also entered the area.
The Global Times newspaper, which often takes a nationalistic tone, said in an editorial: "We should carry out timely countermeasures without hesitation against Japan when it challenges China's newly declared ADIZ.
"If Tokyo flies its aircraft over the zone, we will be bound to send our plane to its ADIZ."
The paper, which is affiliated with the Communist Party mouthpiece People's Daily, said: "If the trend continues, there will likely be friction and confrontation and even tension in the air like during the cold war era between the US and the Soviet Union. We are willing to engage in a protracted confrontation with Japan."
But it shied away from threatening Washington, which sent its giant bombers into the zone, issuing an mistakable message.
"If the US does not go too far, we will not target it in safeguarding our air defence zone," the paper said, adding that Australia could be "ignored" and that South Korea "understands" as it has its own tensions with Japan.
The Communist Party often seeks to bolster its public support by tapping deep-seated resentment of Japan for its brutal invasion of China in the 1930s.
Such passions are easily ignited, and posters on Chinese social media networks have urged Beijing to act, with one saying yesterday: "Japan, US and South Korea jointly ran the red light on purpose. The Chinese government should take decisive measures to deal with them, as a war of words won't solve any problems."
The media rhetoric came after Chinese planes conducted air patrols on Thursday as "a defensive measure and in line with international common practices", Xinhua reported.