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Wary of missteps that could lead to a sudden escalation of tensions, the countries instead have sent less threatening coast guard ships.

Over the past week, however, both have made a point of showing off their naval prowess.

Chinese websites were abuzz Monday with photographs of navy pilots practicing touch-and-go landing exercises on China’s first aircraft carrier. It wasn’t clear when the pictures were taken, and they did not appear on the Defense Ministry’s website or in official media.

The carrier was launched last month without aircraft or an accompanying battle group, and flight operations could be years away.

But it is widely seen as a symbol of China’s ambitions to be a leading Asian naval power, especially as it faces sharpening territorial conflicts with Japan and other countries.

Japan’s navy, meanwhile, marked its 60th anniversary with a major exercise on Sunday. Japan also plans to hold a joint exercise with the U.S. military later this year, reportedly using a scenario of taking a remote island back from a foreign intruder.