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BEIJING: Beijing is to carry out a geographical survey of islands in the East China Sea, state media said yesterday, the latest salvo in an increasingly tense dispute with Tokyo over the uninhabited territory.
The announcement came as Japanese fighter jets were scrambled in response to a Chinese state-owned Y-12 plane flying close to — but not inside — the islands’ airspace, according to Tokyo’s defence ministry.
Separately, official Chinese media reported that Beijing’s armed forces have been instructed this year to train for battle, while a Tokyo official said US and Japanese fighter jets carried out joint air exercises.
This week’s tensions come after Japan’s hawkish Shinzo Abe won a landslide election victory following campaign promises to reinvigorate Tokyo’s security alliance with Washington and take a more robust line against Beijing.
The dispute over the islands, known as Diaoyu in Beijing and Senkaku by Tokyo, which controls them, has simmered on and off for years but intensified in 2012 when Japan nationalised those it did not already own, triggering anger and demonstrations in China.
The protests were allowed to take place by the Communist authorities in Beijing, who use nationalism to bolster their claims to legitimacy, particularly regarding Japan, which occupied parts of China in the 20th century.
China has repeatedly sent maritime surveillance ships to the area and carried out naval exercises, and both Tokyo and Beijing have scrambled fighter jets to the area in recent weeks in a further escalation.
Commentators say Beijing wants to prove that Japan does not have effective control over the chain to draw Tokyo into concessions.
The cartographic survey was part of a programme to map China’s “territorial islands and reefs” and safeguard its “maritime rights and interests”, the official Xinhua news agency said, without saying when it would take place.
It did not make clear whether it would involve activities on land or be purely sea-based.