On 13 December, the eve of the Japanese elections, a Chinese plane flew over the disputed ­islands and between five and eight Japanese F-15 fighter jets were reportedly sent to intercept it.

“The Senkaku group is Japanese territory and, in the eyes of the international community, belongs to Japan and is effectively controlled by us... on this point, there is no room for negotiation,” Abe said of the disputed islands, which China calls Diaoyu.

However, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Hong Lei countered: “The Diaoyu and its affiliated islands have been China’s inherent territory since ancient times.

“China