Chinese, Japanese officials meet amid East China Sea islands dispute
BEIJING (AP) – Japanese coastguard ships fired water cannon to push back Taiwanese vessels Tuesday in the latest confrontation over tiny islands in the East China Sea, as the main contenders, China and Japan, met in an effort to tamp down tensions.
About 40 Taiwanese fishing boats and 12 patrol boats entered waters near the islands on Tuesday morning, briefly triggering an exchange of water cannon fire with Japanese coastguard ships who said the Taiwanese vessels ignored warnings to get out of their territory.
It was the first foray by Taiwan into the waters around the uninhabited islands, known as Senkaku in Japan and Diaoyu in China, since the Japanese government purchased some of them from private owners two weeks ago. China, Japan and Taiwan all claim the islands, but they are administered by Tokyo.
The purchase has sparked sometimes violent protests in China and informal boycotts of Japanese products. Many Chinese have cancelled vacations to Japan over the dispute. Japanese airline JAL says it plans to cut six flights a day from Japan to Beijing and Shanghai from Oct 10 to Oct 27 after the cancelling of 15,500 seat reservations.
China has also dispatched government marine monitoring vessels to patrol around the Japan-administered islands.
Chinese Vice-Foreign Minister Zhang Zhijun and Japanese Vice-Foreign Minister Chikao Kawai, flanked by their aides, held a meeting on the dispute on Tuesday at China’s Foreign Ministry.
After the four-hour meeting, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Hong Lei said both sides exchanged views “frankly and deeply,” and he reiterated that “China will never tolerate Japan’s unilateral acts which violate China’s territorial sovereignty.”
But he said both sides had agreed to continue discussions over the islands.
While both governments appeared publicly to be seeking to calm tensions, gamesmanship around the islands continued on Tuesday.
The Taiwanese fishing boats and government patrol boats violated Japanese territorial waters and Japanese patrol boats fired water cannon at some of the vessels after they ignored earlier warnings to move out, Japanese coastguard officials said.
After shooting water back, the Taiwanese boats left Japanese waters, they said.
Japanese patrol boats only fired water at fishing vessels, said Mr Hideaki Takase, a coastguard official.
“Shooting water cannon at an official vessel is like waging a war against its country,” he said.
Taiwan President Ma Ying-jeou supports the “protecting Diaoyutai campaign” launched by local fishermen, and offered praise to Taiwan’s coastguard for its role in escorting the Taiwanese vessels to the island area, said his spokesman, Mr Fan Chiang Tai-chi.
Japanese Chief Cabinet Secretary Osamu Fujimura said Tokyo requested, through diplomatic channels, that Taiwan stop violating its waters.
“We will continue to keep our guard up to protect the area,” he said. “Japan sticks to our principle that we should resolve the issue while maintaining friendly relations between Japan and Taiwan.”
The last time Taiwanese government vessels entered the islands’ territorial waters was in July, Mr Takase said.
Chinese boats have also briefly entered the waters around the islands in recent weeks, but Japanese coastguard vessels didn’t fire water cannon at them. A coastguard official said Chinese vessels usually exit the Japanese waters more quickly after verbal warnings, without forcing Japanese patrol ships to take physical action.
About 10 Chinese vessels are still lingering just outside the Japanese waters off the islands, although the fleet size has decreased over the last few days, Japanese coastguard officials said.
“Both sides hope to see the escalation in tensions ease up because confrontation does no good to either, but so far we haven’t seen any room for compromise,” Mr Liang Yunxiang, a Japan expert at Peking University, said on Tuesday.