Japan's navy chief keen to resume port visits with China

WASHINGTON • The head of Japan's navy repeated criticisms of China's pursuit of territorial claims in Asia but called for a resumption of port and personnel visits, suspended for several years amid rising tensions between the two Asian powers.

His remarks come as Japan's Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida and former top Chinese diplomat Tang Jiaxuan on Monday pledged to enhance bilateral relations amid escalating tensions over sovereignty issues in the East China Sea.

Admiral Tomohisa Takei said on Monday that exchange visits by senior naval personnel and warships were effective in improving relationships between armed forces.

While urging greater engagement with China, Adm Takei criticised Beijing for its "deliberate attempt to unilaterally change the status quo and undermine existing norms" by building artificial islands in the South China Sea and accused it of "invasion" of Japanese territorial waters in the East China Sea.

"They should be resumed as soon as possible," he told a Washington think-tank. "Our door is open."

While criticising China for its actions in the East China Sea and in the South China Sea, Adm Takei sought to play down remarks by Japan's Defence Minister Tomomi Inada last week on plans to step up cooperation with the United States Navy.

He said Ms Inada's statement that Japan would step up engagement in the South China Sea with "joint training cruises" with the US did not mean it intended to carry out patrols there, and that this had been misinterpreted.

"It means transit from one point to another; to use such occasions to conduct mutual or bilateral exercises, training with a foreign country," he said. "That is the usual training and operation we have conducted for several years."

Adm Takei said Japan had no plans "at this time" to join the US in freedom-of-navigation operations in the South China Sea, even though it is a vital waterway for the transit of 90 per cent of Japan's crude oil and 80 per cent of its natural gas.

"And we are not thinking of conducting operations only by ourselves," he added.

While urging greater engagement with China, Adm Takei criticised Beijing for its "deliberate attempt to unilaterally change the status quo and undermine existing norms" by building artificial islands in the South China Sea and accused it of "invasion" of Japanese territorial waters in the East China Sea.

He said there had been no port visit by a Japanese ship to China since a destroyer docked in Quindao in 2011 and no personnel exchanges for six years.

Mr Tang, president of the China-Japan Friendship Association, admitted in a speech in Tokyo yesterday that ties with Japan have yet to return to normal. Both China and Japan shall have a sense of urgency regarding the current situation and make joint efforts to develop bilateral relations, he said.

REUTERS, XINHUA

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 28, 2016, with the headline 'Japan's navy chief keen to resume port visits with China'. Print Edition | Subscribe