Beijing warns US-Japan military drills will stoke tensions amid dispute

China warns US of 'stoking tensions' in alliance with Japan, which insists exercises are routine

Beijing called on Washington to stop "stoking tension" over the disputed Diaoyu Islands yesterday as the US and Japan began a month-long military drill.

Japanese officials stressed that the drill was a routine exercise, but mainland media suggested it was aimed at containing China in the wake of recent disputes over the eight uninhabited islets, known as the Senkaku Islands in Japan.

Xinhua said in a commentary yesterday that the drill in the western Pacific served no purpose and risked aggravating Sino-Japanese relations and jeopardising future efforts for a peaceful settlement of territorial disputes.

"The move also gives the lie to Washington's alleged neutral stance towards China-Japan disputes and gives birth to more suspicion over the true intentions of the United States in the Asia-Pacific," the commentary said.

It said the drill entailed strategies for taking back islands occupied by enemy troops.

A People's Liberation Army delegation led by Deputy Chief of General Staff Cai Yingting left for an official visit to the US on Monday.

Other mainland media ran reports of the drill, citing Japan's which quoted a Japanese defence official as saying that the war games were designed with China in mind.

However, a Japanese Ministry of Defence spokesman dismissed suggestions that the drills, being carried out on Guam and Tinian Island, 2,000 kilometres away in the western Pacific, were anything other than regularly scheduled exercises. "These are simulations that are never aimed at fighting a certain country," said the spokesman, Takaki Ono.

Professor Hiroyasu Akutsu, from Japan's National Institute of Defence Studies, said the exercises were planned months ago and were not connected to territorial disputes.

Antony Wong Dong, a Macau-based military affairs commentator, said the timing of the drills and the recent territorial tensions were coincidental.

"But the way the drills are based on a scenario of taking back invaded islands still sends a message that they are targeted at China," he said.

Meanwhile, Taiwan's president, Ma Ying-jeou, said he would not risk harming ties with Japan by joining with Beijing to claim the Diaoyus. He said all parties should exercise restraint and resolve disputes peacefully.

This article appeared in the South China Morning Post print edition as: Beijing bristles as US-Japan begin military drills