Two People's Liberation Army Navy ships patrolled waters near the disputed Diaoyu Islands yesterday - the 118th anniversary of China's ceding of the chain to Japan.
Missile destroyer Lanzhou and missile frigate Hengshui from the navy's South Sea Fleet patrolled the area around the islands in the East China Sea, the navy website said.
However, China Central Television said the ships only "entered" non-disputed waters about 70 nautical miles from the islands, which Japan calls the Senkakus.
The appearance of the PLA ships near the Diaoyus coincided with the date of the signing of the Treaty of Shimonoseki in 1895, in which the Qing dynasty government was forced to cede Taiwan and all its affiliated islands, including the Diaoyus, to Japan and pay a war indemnity of 7,450 tonnes of silver to Japan.
The treaty, called Maguan in China, was signed between the Empire of Japan and the Qing government after China's Beiyang Fleet, dubbed the most powerful navy in Asia at the time, was annihilated by the Japanese navy during the first Sino-Japanese war, which lasted from August 1894 to April 1895.
"The PLA Navy's remarkable appearance near the Diaoyus on such a memorable date doesn't only just aim to remind today's PLA Navy never to forget their predecessor, which underwent such a historical humiliation 118 years ago, but it also helps Beijing seek legitimacy for its dream of becoming a maritime power in the international world," said Shanghai-based naval expert Professor Ni Lexiong .
Senior Colonel Li Jie, a researcher at the PLA Navy's Military Academy in Beijing, said it was "a coincidence" that the PLA Navy had shown up near the Diaoyus on the 118th anniversary of the treaty's signing. "But it's sure that our navy's patrol and training missions near the waters of the Diaoyus have become a systematic and regular practice."
The PLA Navy website said the ships entered the waters near the Diaoyus via Japan's Miyako Strait on Tuesday, the same day the Defence Ministry issued its eighth biennial white paper. The report made a special mention of Japan, accusing it of "making troubles" over the dispute involving the Diaoyus. The Japanese government's purchase of three of the islands in September sparked angry protests in Chinese cities.
Many Chinese internet users and military enthusiasts lauded the patrol, with the Sina.com  military page receiving nearly 12,000 messages by yesterday morning. But when internet users wrote later of their disappointment upon learning that the ships had only sailed in non-disputed waters, their comments were deleted.
Japan's Defence Ministry confirmed the two Chinese warships did not enter Japanese waters near the Diaoyus, the Kyodo news agency said.
The PLA Navy website said the vessels conducted offensive and defensive drills, and training in intercepting and searching ships in the western Pacific Ocean on Sunday and Monday.