TOKYO • Japan has warned China that ties were "deteriorating markedly" over a group of disputed islets in the East China Sea, and China's envoy in Tokyo reiterated Beijing's stance that the specks of land were its territory and called for talks to resolve the row.
Tensions between Asia's two largest economies have risen since Japan saw an increasing number of Chinese coast guard and other government ships sailing near the disputed islets - known as Senkaku in Japan and Diaoyu in China - in the past few days.
Japanese Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida yesterday called in Chinese ambassador Cheng Yonghua for the second time since Friday and told him that China was trying to change the status quo unilaterally, a Japanese Foreign Ministry statement said.
It also said Mr Kishida told the Chinese envoy that the environment surrounding Sino-Japanese ties was deteriorating markedly.
Mr Cheng said after the meeting that he told Mr Kishida that the islets were an integral part of China's territory and that the dispute should be resolved through diplomacy and dialogue.
"I told him that... it is natural that Chinese ships conduct activity in the waters in question," he said.
"I also told him both countries need to work on dialogue through diplomatic channels so as not to make things more complicated and escalated," he added.
Mr Kishida's move came after repeated protests by Japanese Foreign Ministry officials since Friday over what Tokyo calls "intrusions" by Chinese ships in the territorial and contiguous waters of the rocky islands.
Mr Cheng was also summoned on Friday by Vice-Foreign Minister Shinsuke Sugiyama after two Chinese coast guard and fishing vessels entered Japan's territorial waters.
Yesterday morning, the Japanese coast guard said it spotted Chinese ships in the country's territorial waters surrounding the islands and about a dozen others nearby.
A day earlier, the coast guard caught sight of 15 Chinese coast guard ships near the islands - the highest number ever spotted.
Some 230 Chinese fishing vessels and seven coast guard ships, including four apparently carrying weapons, sailed into waters close to the disputed islets on Sunday. It is rare for so many Chinese fishing vessels to be seen in the disputed waters.
Japan's Kyodo News reported on Monday that Japan wants "high- level" talks with China over the incursions as they have not stopped despite Tokyo's protests. Citing a government source, it said that Japan wants to bring up the issue in talks between the country's leaders and foreign ministers.
The flurry of Chinese intrusions follows a period of sustained pressure on China about its activities in the South China Sea, and Chinese criticism of what it saw as Japanese interference in that dispute.
The United States and Japan have questioned Chinese land reclamation on contested islands in the South China Sea, particularly after a five-man Arbitral Tribunal at The Hague last month rejected China's historic claims to most of that sea.
China has refused to recognise the ruling on a case brought by the Philippines in 2013 under then President Benigno Aquino.
Meanwhile, former Philippine president Fidel Ramos is in Hong Kong as a special envoy to current President Rodrigo Duterte, to try to rekindle ties with China soured by the dispute.
REUTERS, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE