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Diaoyu Islands

Papers go ballistic over Diaoyu dispute with Japan

Islands in a storm of rhetoric, with one daily suggesting 'serving main course of nuclear missiles'

Raymond Li

The mainland's state-run media have long been notorious for nationalistic sabre-rattling during international disputes. But the took things to a new level last week with a chilling call for nuclear war to settle Beijing's dispute with Japan over the five uninhabited Diaoyu Islands in the East China Sea.

Why bother trying to reach a diplomatic settlement with Japan over the territorial claims? the paper asked on Sina Weibo while reposting a comparison between the two countries' military strengths. "Just serve [Japan] with the main course of nuclear missiles and all the troubles will be saved," it said.

Needless to say, the post caused quite a stir and has since been deleted. But it was only the most extreme example of the increasingly militaristic rhetoric adopted by state-run media in recent months as China's territorial disputes with its neighbours have intensified.

The gung-ho gusto reached a new level after Tokyo announced on Monday that it planned to buy three of the five Diaoyus, which the Japanese call the Senkakus. Mainland media quickly rallied around the flag as Foreign Minister Yang Jiechi summoned Japanese Ambassador Uichiro Niwa to lodge a strong protest.

On Tuesday, Xinhua reported that Premier Wen Jiabao had, during a speech at China Foreign Affairs University the previous day, vowed that China would "never yield an inch" of the Diaoyus. The state news agency also announced that two marine surveillance ships had reached the waters around the Diaoyu Islands in an attempt to "assert sovereignty".

The next day, a front-page report in the - the People's Liberation Army's official mouthpiece - revealed that joint drills of the army, navy, air force and strategic missile corps had been under way in the Yellow Sea and in the Gobi Desert since early this month.

Then the Chinese-language version of the , a hawkish tabloid published by , published a joint statement by 10 generals, including retired major general Luo Yuan, who called for military preparation in the event of a strike against Japan.

Luo said China should mark the island chain as a military practice ground and test-fire missiles if necessary. "The next step is to build up military presence eventually to take over the island," Luo added.

Lieutenant General Zhao Yingfu, a former political commissar with the Nanjing military command, said the nation should never be afraid of military confrontation. China's growing economic power should be matched with a strong military force, Zhao said.

Another commentary on Wednesday said the public should have given up illusions about a peaceful relationship with their historical military rival the moment Tokyo signed the deal over the islands sealed on Tuesday. "It is inevitable for China and Japan to have once again become two nations hostile to each other," it said.

It added that China's status as a nuclear power would serve as deterrent to Japan.

The state-run media's campaign against Japan did hit some rough water. On Wednesday, the , a government-run tabloid in Hubei , published a front-page photo purportedly showing two Chinese marine surveillance ships near the contested islands.

The location of the two ships remained a matter of confusion all day Tuesday, as the Japan Coast Guard said it had not found any Chinese ships within a 44-kilometre buffer zone around the islands. State media failed to provide additional photos or video to back up there case.

The photo was widely circulated, and mocked, on the internet. "The two surveillance ships that the Japan Coast Guard warships and planes have been painstakingly looking for are finally located," one microblogger wrote. "They're on the front page of ."

This article appeared in the South China Morning Post print edition as: Papers go ballistic over Diaoyu dispute with Japan