BEIJING (AFP) - China's response to US B-52 bombers in its newly-declared air zone was "too slow", state-run media said on Thursday, fuelling a popular clamour for Beijing to get tough against Japan and the US.
Beijing's declaration of a new Air Defence Identification Zone (ADIZ) including Tokyo-administered islands at the centre of a tense dispute between the two neighbours has provoked global concern.
The US has a security alliance with Japan and announced that it had sent two US Stratofortress planes into the zone without obeying Beijing's rules, in an unmistakable message ahead of a visit to the region by Vice-President Joe Biden.
China's defence ministry issued a statement 11 hours later saying the military "monitored the entire process" of the B-52 flights, without expressing regret or anger or threatening direct action.
The Global Times, which is close to China's ruling Communist Party and often strikes a nationalist tone, criticised the reaction as "too slow" in an editorial on Thursday.
"We failed in offering a timely and ideal response," it said, adding that Chinese officials needed to react to the "psychological battles" by the US.
The government-run China Daily added that Washington's move risked fuelling Tokyo's "dangerous belligerence" and putting China and the US "on a collision course. Which will prove much more hazardous than sending military aircraft to play chicken in the air".
China's Communist party uses nationalism as a key part of its claim to a right to rule, tapping into deep-seated popular resentment of Japan for its brutal invasion of China in the early 20th century.
Such passions are quickly aroused, and Chinese social media users called for Beijing to retaliate against Washington.
"The US's bomber wandered around the edge of our ADIZ, I figure we should respond in kind. One good turn deserves another, right?" wrote one poster on Sina Weibo, a Chinese version of Twitter.
Another said the bomber flights "can only be called a provocation".
One suggested that Beijing should cancel Biden's invitation, saying that if it "now announces that it was not the right time for Biden to visit China, would the US military still enter the ADIZ in the future as they like?"
The Chinese ADIZ requires aircraft to provide their flight plan, declare their nationality and maintain two-way radio communication, or face "defensive emergency measures".
The US and Japan accuse China of raising the stakes in the row over islands known as Senkaku in Japan and Diaoyu in China, and senior administration officials in Washington said on Wednesday that Biden plans to raise Washington's "concerns" about the zone during his visit to Beijing next week.
The trip will allow him to "make the broader point that there's an emerging pattern of behaviour by China that is unsettling to China's own neighbours and raising questions about how China operates in international space," an official said.
China's new ADIZ also overlaps South Korea's zone, incorporating a disputed, submerged, Seoul-controlled rock, and the South Korean military said on Thursday one of its planes had flown through it without informing Beijing.
Australia on Thursday refused to backdown from criticism of the new air zone after Canberra summoned China's ambassador earlier this week, prompting a furious response from Beijing.
The Philippines also voiced concern on Thursday that China may extend control of air space over disputed areas of the South China Sea.
China for its part has accused the US and Japan - which have both maintained ADIZs for years - of double standards, and says the real provocateur is Tokyo.
The dispute lay dormant for decades but escalated in September 2012 when Tokyo purchased three of the uninhabited outcrops from private owners.
Beijing accused Tokyo of altering the status quo and has since sent surveillance ships and aircraft to the area as shows of force, prompting Japan to scramble fighter jets 386 times in the 12 months to September.
After an unidentified drone flew towards the islands, Tokyo threatened to shoot down such aircraft, which Beijing warned would amount to an "act of war".
The manoeuvres have raised fears of an accidental clash but both countries have strong commercial incentives to avoid conflict.
As the world's second- and third-largest economies, they share significant trade links.