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Tensions over disputed East China Sea islands flared up Wednesday when Chinese patrol vessels entered waters claimed by Japan, setting off a confrontation with the Japanese coast guard.|
Following days of hostile rhetoric since Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda said his government was considering purchasing the privately owned islands, the face-off fueled concerns that the island row will strain the burgeoning economic ties between the two Asian powers. Spokesmen from each government offered sharp words following Wednesday's incident, each emphasizing sovereignty over the islands, known as Senkaku in Japan and Diaoyu in China.
'It is very clear that the Senkaku Islands are Japan's inherent territory both from historical and legal perspectives,' said Japan's chief cabinet secretary, Osamu Fujimura. 'And in reality, Japan effectively controls them.'
At a daily briefing in Beijing, Chinese government spokesman Liu Weimin said, 'The Diaoyu island and its affiliated islets have been China's inherent territory since ancient times. ... China does not accept Japanese representations over it.'
Meeting Wednesday on the sidelines of a regional ministerial conference in Phnom Penh, Japanese Foreign Minister Koichiro Gemba 'strongly protested' to Chinese Foreign Minister Yang Jiechi, according to a statement from Japan's foreign ministry, which said Mr. Yang responded with remarks 'based on China's own position.'
Mr. Gemba stressed the importance of a 'coolheaded response,' the statement added, and the two agreed that the attitudes of Japanese and Chinese people toward the other country 'required drastic improvement,' and to that end private-sector exchanges should be 'fundamentally expanded.'
China is increasingly asserting its territorial claims in the Western Pacific, setting off disputes with other neighbors, notably the Philippines and Vietnam.
Complicating the situation is tension within Japan over the ownership of the islands, which may take months to sort out. Japanese officials say Mr. Noda was forced into announcing his purchase plan even knowing it would raise Beijing's ire by Shintaro Ishihara, Tokyo's combative governor. Known for his incendiary attitude toward China, Mr. Ishihara had made a surprise proposal in May that his city buy the uninhabited islands, though they lie thousands of miles from the capital. Mr. Ishihara's highly publicized campaign has raised over ¥1.3 billion ($17 million) in donations.
After Mr. Noda's announcement, Mr. Ishihara said Tokyo would first purchase the islands and then sell them to the government, citing the private owners' desire. The islands are owned by a Japanese family but the government maintains a lease on them that is renewed annually.
Wednesday's drama started around 4 a.m. Tokyo time, when a Chinese patrol vessel came within 22 kilometers of Senkaku, entering what Japan considers its territorial waters. Two other Chinese vessels also appeared in the area, with one entering the territorial waters, according to the Japanese Coast Guard.
The three left within about four hours, after repeated warnings from Coast Guard officials伟and after making provocative remarks.
'Our vessel is conducting official duties within China's territorial waters,' one vessel said in response to Japanese warnings, according to a Coast Guard news release. 'Do not obstruct. Leave the Chinese waters immediately.'
Highlighting its alarm, Japan's Prime Minister's office set up a special liaison unit within its Crisis Management Center.
In China's account of the encounter, as reported by the state-run Xinhua news agency, three boats on 'routine patrol' approached the islands. Xinhua characterized them as 'law-enforcement vessels,' citing a seasonal fishing ban China has declared in the East China Sea, and said such patrols have been conducted since 2010. Boats of the same type sailed into the areas Japan considers its territorial waters this past March and in August of last year.
During a major confrontation over the islands in the fall of 2010, China sent in a bigger patrol vessel, able to carry helicopters.
With no resolution of the ownership transfer in sight, some in Japan fear a repeat of that bitter 2010 confrontation, which put a damper on bilateral trade, investment and tourism for many months. Others fear even worse: a landing on one of the islands by Chinese representatives, triggering a violent conflict.
Koji Murata, professor of political science at Doshisha University in Kyoto, said that Mr. Noda, energized by his recent success on a contentious tax increase, now hopes to boost his national-security image by inserting himself into the island issue伟but that it's a perilous decision.
'It's easy to nationalize the islands, but how would he provide naval defense?' Mr. Murata said. 'It's nationalization with no follow-up plans. I think this is a very precarious situation.' [source: wsj]