With tensions brewing over the Senkaku Islands, the People’s Liberation Army Daily, the official paper of China’s PLA, is telling the military to prepare for war:

“In 2013, the goal set for the entire army and the People’s Armed Police force is to bolster their capabilities to fight and their ability to win a war … to be well-prepared for a war by subjecting the army to hard and rigorous training on an actual combat basis,” according to yesterday’s People’s Liberation Army Daily, which referred to a training blueprint issued by the PLA’s Department of the General Staff for the entire force.

The directive came in stark contrast to that of its predecessor. In last year’s directive, more emphasis was placed on joint military trainings and co-ordination among different PLA services.

This year’s statement stresses the urgency of real combat abilities in all military training by repeating the phrase “fighting wars”, or dazhang, as many as 10 times in the article, which was no more than 1,000 words. The phrase did not appear in last year’s directive.

Further boosting rosy predictions for the region, Japan is considering basing F-15s close to the islands:

The Defense Ministry is thinking of stationing F-15 fighter jets at a remote airport halfway from Naha to Taiwan to speed up its response to airspace incursions by China near the disputed Senkaku Islands, government sources said Monday.

The planes would be stationed on Shimojijima Island, which is much closer to the Japan-administered Senkakus, which China claims as the Diaoyu, than to Okinawa’s prefectural capital Naha, where the Air Self-Defense Force’s F-15s are based.

Things are getting interesting, with Japan recently scrambling F-15s to tail a Chinese Y-8 patrol plane near the islands, and China scrambling J-10s in response. This move may have been more dangerous than it initially sounds:

The Diplomat calls the Y-8 a transport plane, and it can be, but the aircraft has more than 30 variants. The Y-8 performs everything from Mineral Research, to Geophysical Surveying, to Electronic Warfare to Intelligence Gathering and one variant is simply an innocuous but lethal fully loaded gunship, with two heavy cannons and three heavy machine guns.

It’s the perfect plane for a game of cat and mouse because if the Y-8 ever received fire from Japan’s F-15s, China could simply maintain it was an unarmed transport model carrying troops, or the Y8-F model that carries only livestock.

In the meantime, the plane can perform all manner of sophisticated tests on the seabed floor, while eavesdropping on Japanese communications. China has been flying these planes consistently lately to surveil the contested island chain that’s supposed to hold billions in oil and gas reserves.

Japan is also considering allowing its jets to fire tracer rounds at Chinese planes. And Tokyo is conducting drills to practice retaking a small, remote island.

In The Atlantic, Matt Schiavenza writes:

Just because relations have worsened, of course, does not mean war is imminent: both China and Japan have strong incentives to avoid escalating their bilateral crisis. Nevertheless, the trend in both countries is clear: a robust defense of the islands is good politics and politics, for better or for worse, drives bilateral relations more than either side likes to admit. Whether a rocky outpost in the middle of the East China Sea becomes a mere historical footnote or the start of something more serious will depend on how the two leaders strike a balance between national interest and the wishes of their people.