The Chinese navy confirmed on Tuesday that Chinese military planes conducted routine training in the Sea of Japan. However, Japan's overreaction to the drill could seriously undermine regional peace, experts said.
"The exercise was part of the year's planned routine," said Chinese People's Liberation Army Navy spokesman Liang Yang. "It does not target any specific country, region or objective, and it adheres to related international laws and practices. More exercises will take place in the future."
Japan's Air Self-Defense Force scrambled fighter jets from multiple bases on Monday after eight Chinese People's Liberation Army military planes, including six H-6 bombers, flew via the Tsushima Strait from the East China Sea into the Sea of Japan, Japan's Ministry of Defense said.
This was the first flight over the Tsushima Strait since August 2016 and the eight planes did not enter Japanese airspace, the ministry added.
"Japan's growing hostility towards regular Chinese military training in international waterways could lead to serious accidents and undermine regional peace," said Ma Gang, a professor at PLA National Defense University.
In December 2016, China's Defense Ministry slammed Japan for harassing and shooting decoy flares at Chinese military planes passing through the Miyako Strait, calling Japan's reactions "dangerous and unprofessional".
The Tsushima Strait is an international sea route narrower and closer to Japan's air space than the Miyako Strait, Ma said. Therefore, flying through the Tsushima Strait is like "threading a needle" and takes great navigation and piloting skills, he added.
"While it is rare for eight planes to pass at once, Japan should react delicately to China's regular training," he said. "It is unnecessary and dangerous to deploy so many loaded war planes into the region."
Wang Dong, a researcher of Northeast Asian studies at Peking University, said Japan's overreaction is a deliberate act to overhype the Chinese threat in order to persuade the US to increase military presence in Asia.
"Japan's current right wing government views China as an imaginary enemy," he said. "Japan is also anxious of US forces leaving Northeast Asia, so it wants to take advantage of every opportunity to stir fear and tension in the region."
Wang said China and Japan have been trying to build an emergency communication mechanism to prevent flight accidents for years. However, "so far Japan has shown neither intention nor commitment to push the plan through," he said.