A senior Chinese military officer said in a recent interview with Kyodo News that Beijing does not want a war over the Tokyo-controlled Senkaku Islands claimed by China in the East China Sea, but is "not fearful" of armed conflict.

Lt. Gen. He Lei, a former vice president of the People's Liberation Army Academy of Military Sciences, also indicated the possibility that China will target the Senkakus, which it calls Diaoyu, as well if it attempts to capture Taiwan, a self-ruled democratic island, through the use of force.

Lt. Gen. He Lei, a former vice president of the People's Liberation Army Academy of Military Sciences, speaks to Kyodo News in Beijing on Oct. 30, 2023. (Kyodo)

The rare reference by a senior Chinese military officer to a possible war over the Senkaku Islands suggests Beijing's determination to gain control of the territory that Japan brought under state control in 2012.

The academy makes policy proposals to the PLA. He criticized Tokyo for purchasing the islands from Japanese private hands, stressing that Beijing will "firmly protect its national territory, sovereignty and maritime interests" if the Japanese side continues its "provocations."

Tokyo should not underestimate the Chinese military's "strong will, resolve and power" to safeguard national sovereignty, safety and territorial integrity, He warned.

The lieutenant general said he believes issues surrounding Taiwan, which Beijing regards as its own, are one factor destabilizing Sino-Japanese relations and it is "impermissible to interfere with China's core interests," calling matters related to the island "a purely domestic issue" of the country.

Beijing claims the Senkakus are part of its Taiwan Province. Asked whether China could launch an offensive to simultaneously target the seizure of Taiwan and the islets, He said such a scenario is in line with the mainland's "principle."

File photo taken in September 2012 shows the Senkaku Islands in the East China Sea. (Kyodo)

Meanwhile, He pointed out the two Asian neighbors have put aside the territorial row, referring to the famous words of then Chinese strongman Deng Xiaoping in 1978, suggesting to leave the issue to "the wisdom of future generations" during negotiations on the bilateral Treaty of Peace and Friendship concluded that year.

"We, the future generations, should have been able to solve the dispute, but Japan took a provocative action," the officer said, blaming Tokyo's step to change the status quo by bringing the islands under its direct control.

China frequently sends its vessels into Japanese waters around the uninhabited islets.

Mainland China and Taiwan have been governed separately since they split in 1949 as a result of a civil war. Beijing seeks to unify the two sides, by force if necessary.

Related coverage:

Japan, Vietnam agree to deepen security cooperation amid China's rise

Japan, China reaffirm policy to settle Fukushima row via talks

U.S. Marines set up littoral unit in Okinawa for islands defense