Beijing, Dec 14 (IANS) The row over the disputed East China Sea islands "could easily veer into a serious military clash", a state-run Chinese daily warned Friday, a day after Japan scrambled fighter jets after a Chinese plane flew into its airspace.
An article in the Global Times said that the Chinese marine surveillance plane flew over the Diaoyu Islands, joining the vessels patrolling the islands for the first time.
"This marks another important step for China in safeguarding the sovereignty of the islands," it said.
The daily observed that there was no direct confrontation between the two sides, but Japan showed a hardline stance in its determination to win over China in the Diaoyu Islands dispute.
Relations between the two countries have plummeted over their claims to the islands.
Japan claims it has occupied the islands since 1895, while China maintains the islands were recognized as Chinese as early as 1783.
The tension between the two Asian powers boiled over again after Japan announced in September the purchase of three of the islands of the disputed island chain, which sparked violent anti-Japan protests in a number of Chinese cities that in turn led to the suspension of events commemorating the 40th anniversary of the two countries' renewal of diplomatic ties and forced many Japanese companies in China to suspend operations temporarily.
The Chinese daily said that the dispute has intensified this year due to "Japan's provocations".
"China has adopted a firm approach. In the past, the Japanese Coast Guard has deployed vessels around the islands, and claimed it had "actual control" over them. However, when individual Chinese ships entered the 12-nautical-mile zone around the islands, they were detained by Japan.
"This situation has changed. It has become normal for China's marine surveillance vessels to enter the 12-nautical-mile zone. Japan's "actual control" over the islands has gone," it said.
The daily added that China has "gained the initiative in the dispute, but still faces great challenges".
It went on to say that Japan aggressively used fighter jets to confront China's marine surveillance plane, escalating its provocations against China. "Japan claimed it has no intention of worsening the situation in the islands and is willing to resolve frictions with China peacefully, but what it did yesterday sends the opposite signal."
The daily called for making China's air surveillance of the Diaoyu Islands "a regular move".
"China needs to warn against Japan's attempt to intercept, or it will result in a response from China, such as sending the air force to the area and reserving the right to take further actions," it warned.
"An aerial confrontation between China and Japan above the Diaoyu area will have much higher stakes than a standoff of ships between the two. The situation could easily veer into a serious military clash. But if Tokyo keeps on intercepting Chinese patrol planes, such a confrontation is bound to happen sooner or later," the daily added.
It stressed: "Japan needs to be clear that China will not retreat in the face of its provocations. The Chinese public will not allow such a retreat. A new reality has been formed surrounding the Diaoyu conflict. It is impossible to turn back. Japan has to accept it with rationality."