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China: Japan ‘Playing with Fire’ Looking for Larger Role in South China Sea

A spokesman for the Chinese Defense Ministry has warned the Japanese government to abandon its plans to seek a greater role in freedom of navigation exercises in the South China Sea, suggesting that Japan’s interest is “playing with fire” and that China’s military is prepared to subdue any challengers in the region.

“We must solemnly tell Japan this is a miscalculation,” spokesman Yang Yujun told reporters this week when asked about Japanese officials’ remarks that they would participate in exercises with the United States in the South China Sea. “If Japan wants to have joint patrols or drills in waters under Chinese jurisdiction this really is playing with fire,” he added. “China’s military will not sit idly by.”

The warning comes shortly after the start of the 12th Beijing-Tokyo Forum in the Japanese capital, which the Chinese communist propaganda outlet The People’s Daily used as an excuse to warn Japan to warm up to its mainland neighbor — and in turn accept China’s belligerent behavior in the region. “The two countries are stuck in a state of ‘cold peace’ and they must avoid sliding into a cold war,” a column in The People’s Daily warns, “The two societies are seemingly building psychological readiness toward the possibility of a military clash.”

Earlier this week, the Chinese military acted rather that issue statements, flying warplanes over the East China Sea in an abrupt manner and triggering the scrambling of Japanese fighter jets. Japan claims parts of the East China Sea, including the disputed Senkaku Islands, which China also claims and refers to as the Diaoyu. The incident did not occur over Japanese territory, according to Tokyo, but near enough that it alarmed military monitors. China noted that the incident occurred over its Air Defense Identification Zone (ADIZ) in the East China Sea, a

The incident did not occur over Japanese territory, according to Tokyo, but near enough that it alarmed military monitors. China noted that the incident occurred over its Air Defense Identification Zone (ADIZ) in the East China Sea, a unilaterally established region in which China demands all foreign entities to identify itself to Beijing. The ADIZ has been ignored nearly in its entirety since established in 2013.

While Japan makes no claims in the South China Sea, it has expressed a willingness to involve itself in that territorial dispute on behalf of smaller powers that Beijing has largely gotten away with bullying. China claims almost the entire South China Sea, including the territories of the Philippines, Vietnam, Brunei, Taiwan, and Malaysia. The Permanent Court of Arbitration at the Hague ruled against China’s claims in July, a ruling China has vowed to ignore. According to Chinese officials, the Hague verdict was a falsehood orchestrated by “eunuch” American and Japanese officials, though neither government made any overlapping territorial claim in the region.

Japanese Defense Minister Tomomi Inada did little to quell Chinese fears of a greater Japanese presence in the region when speaking in Washington earlier this month. Inada told an audience at the Center for Strategic and International Studies that Japan was looking to cooperate with the United States on South China Sea patrols. “Japan on its part will increase its engagement in the South China Sea through, for example, Maritime Self-Defense Force joint training cruises with the U.S. Navy, bilateral and multi-lateral exercises with regional navies, as well as providing capacity building assistance to coastal nations,” she said.

“Coercive attempts to change the facts on the ground and upend the prevailing norms do not serve anybody’s interest. Unfortunately, what China has been doing recently in the East China Sea and South China Sea is just that,” she added.

“There are people who make a fuss about it, although it originally is not Japan’s problem. This causes a new problem,” Jiang Jianguo, minister of China’s State Council Information Office said on September 26, possibly referring to Inada’s speech. It appears that her remarks have alarmed Chinese officials as the remarks from Beijing warning Japan to stay away continue to add up.

China has previously expressed similar sentiments. In July, Chinese Premier Li Keqiang and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe met on the sidelines of the Asia-Europe Meeting (Asem), where Li reportedly told Abe to “stop hyping up and interfering in the South China Sea issue,” according to Chinese state media outlet Xinhua.

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