China expressed “extreme concern” over defense talks between the United States and Japan aimed at strengthening their alliances amid fears that the simmering maritime dispute in the East China Sea could lead to an armed conflict.

Japan Self-Defense Forces’ joint chief Gen. Shigeru Iwasaki and Adm. Samuel Locklear from the US Pacific Command are set to meet in Hawaii on Thursday and Friday for talks on regional security, including drafting operational plans in case of China invades the disputed Senkaku islands, Japanese media said.

The dialogue “offers these leaders an opportunity to discuss ways to deepen operational cooperation and to improve the effectiveness of bilateral operations,” said Staff Sgt. Carl Hudson, a Pacific Command spokesman.

While Washington insisted its neutral stance on the sovereignty dispute, it said the uninhabited islands are covered by the Japan-US Security Treaty.

Beijing denounced the talks as “outside pressure” but said it will not “affect the resolve and determination of the Chinese government and people to maintain territorial sovereignty,” reports Reuters.

“China is extremely concerned by these reports … The Chinese government has the determination and ability to maintain the nation’s territorial sovereignty,” Chines Foreign Ministry spokesman Hong Lei said.

Both Japan and China have scrambled fighter jets while patrol ships shadow each other in the tense waters, raising fears that an unintended collision could escalate into a broader conflict.