Beijing slams Tokyo's criticism of fishing law

It steps up pressure on Abe, and says Japan is an outsider in S. China Sea

THE Sino-Japanese rift has deepened, with Beijing slamming Tokyo's criticism of its new fishing rules for foreign vessels in the South China Sea, even as it steps up global pressure on Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe.

A Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman said yesterday that China strongly opposes Japan's comments, given its outsider status in the South China Sea, a regional flashpoint where China has territorial disputes with several Asean states.

"China, located next to the South China Sea, is more dedicated and concerned than anyone else towards ensuring peace and stability there," said Ms Hua Chunying, responding at a regular press briefing to Japanese Defence Minister Itsunori Onodera's critical remarks on Sunday.

Mr Onodera said "not only Japan, but the international society as a whole, has a concern that China is unilaterally threatening the existing international order" with its new restrictions in the South China Sea and the creation of an Air Defence Identification Zone.

China's fishing rule, which took effect on Jan 1, requires foreign vessels to seek its approval before entering the 2 million sq km of waters that Hainan Island claims to be under its administrative control in the 3.5 million sq km South China Sea.

It sparked fears China is setting up a maritime version of the Air Defence Identification Zone launched in November in the East China Sea, which includes the Diaoyu/Senkaku islands claimed by both China and Japan.

Vietnam, the Philippines and Taiwan which, along with Malaysia and Brunei, have competing sovereignty claims with China in the resource-rich South China Sea, have also criticised the fishing rule.

But China has defended it as a routine revision of its existing fisheries law aimed at better regulating its fishing industry.

Meanwhile, Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi, outlining China's growing global role in an opinion article yesterday in the New Europe political newspaper, criticised Mr Abe over his visit last month to the Yasukuni war shrine, which honours 14 Class A war criminals of World War II.

Mr Abe's move - the first since 2006 by a sitting Japanese premier - was seen as a display of his desire to remilitarise Japan, sparking protests from China and South Korea.

"The Japanese leader, by trying to turn back the wheel of history, is leading his country down a dangerous road.

The international community needs to stay vigilant and stand firmly for human conscience and the post-war international order," wrote Mr Wang.

Latest media reports showed that more than 30 Chinese ambassadors worldwide have also derided Mr Abe's shrine visit - through press briefings or published essays in their host countries - as part of China's new strategy to sway global opinion against Japan.

kianbeng@sph.com.sg

CHINA-JAPAN TENSIONS SET FORUM ABUZZ, SINGAPORE