In an unexpectedly brazen rattling of sabers, just days after China deployed troops to its first foreign base in Djibouti, a move which the Global Times clarified is "about protecting its own security, not about seeking to control the world, Beijing made a less than subtle reversal, when it told Japan on Friday to "get used to it" after it flew six warplanes over the Miyako Strait between two southern Japanese islands in a military exercise.
It all started late on Thursday night, when Japan's defense ministry issued a token statement describing the flyover by the formation of Xian H-6 bombers, also known as China's B-52, earlier that day as "unusual", while noting that there had been no violation of Japanese airspace.
The flyover was hardly surprising: the Chinese navy and air force have been carrying out a series of exercises in the Western Pacific in recent month, both as they hone their ability to operate far from their home shores, as well as a trial balloon to gauge the reactions of their increasingly more nervous neighbors.
What made this flyover different, is that usually following a formal protest by the "offended" country, Beijing would take note and issue a token statement of its own, "neither admitting nor denying" guilt, but certainly without assurances of further transgressions. But not this time. On Friday the Chinese defense ministry said it was "legal and proper" for its military aircraft to operate in the airspace and that it would continue to organize regular training exercises according to "mission requirements."
In other words, Beijing pushed back against Japan's complaint suggesting that China had not only done nothing wrong, but that this behaviour would escalate:
"The relevant side should not make a fuss about nothing or over-interpret, it will be fine once they get used to it," the ministry said in a statement.
Furthermore, the Miyako Strait is between Japan's islands of Miyako and Okinawa, to the northeast of self-ruled Taiwan, which China claims as its own.
It wasn't just Japan: also on Thursday, Taiwan's Ministry of National Defense said the Chinese bombers flew just outside its air defense identification zone and that it had "closely followed" the movements.
It is probably safe to assume that several more such close encounters, coupled an escalation in the harsh language - don't expect Japan to back off diplomatically, especially not under Abe who militant ambitions are hardly secret - and a repeat of the tensions that erupted in 2013/2014 over territorial claims in the East China Sea, and which ended with diplomatic relations between China and Japan collapsing as well as nationalist sentiment in both China and Japan erupting, appears likely.
In a separate close encounter, at the same time that the US was conducting a succeeful THAAD-based intercept of a ballistic missile on Tuesday, a Chinese spy ship was lurking just 100 miles from Alaska's coast to witness the said test for itself, Fox News reported. Furthermore, it was the first time the North American Aerospace Defense Command had seen this class of Chinese spy ship before near Alaska, an official told Fox News. The ship was spotted off the coast of Kodiak, on Alaska's southern tip.
The THAAD test came after North Korea successfully test launched an alleged ICBM missile (this has subsequently been challenged with many claiming the missile was only intermediate range) that flew longer than any test conducted by Kim's regime to date. Officials have said that Kim may now have the capability to strike Alaska. Prior to the test, both China and Russia have repeatedly demanded that the US remove its THAAD installations from South Korea over concerns that the balance of power in the Pacific Rim could shift, and destabilize the region.
China has sent warships to Alaska before, most famously in 2015 when former Barack Obama visited Alaska, China "greeted" him by sending five ships, while more recently a Chinese warship trailed a U.S. warship when it sailed earlier this month near a contested island in the South China Sea.
China also recently launched a new class of destroyer in Shanghai, which military experts say is on par with modern U.S. Burke class guided-missile destroyers. Furthermore, China now has roughly the same number of destroyers, cruisers and submarines as the U.S. Navy, according to new study from CNAS a Washington think tank.
In a separate naval adventure, China's first fully functional aircraft carrier recently sailed near Taiwan after making a port call in Hong Kong that marked 20 years since the British handed the city over. The carrier was declared combat ready following initial tests in November. It does not, however, have advanced steam catapults to launch jets like a modern U.S. Navy aircraft carrier.
It was not clear where the Chinese spy ship had moved to after its brief trip to the Alaska coast.