Japan summons Chinese envoy for second time since Friday, warns ties worsening amid ship ‘incursions’

This hand out picture released by the Japan Coast Guard on August 6 shows the China coast guard ship 35104 sailing near the waters of disputed East China Sea islands.
This hand out picture released by the Japan Coast Guard on August 6 shows the China coast guard ship 35104 sailing near the waters of disputed East China Sea islands.PHOTO: AFP

TOKYO (REUTERS, AFP) – Japan warned China on Tuesday that ties were “deteriorating markedly” over disputed East China Sea islets, 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 coastguard and other government ships sailing near the disputed islets, called Senkaku in Japan and Diaoyu in China, over the past few days.

Japanese Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida 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.  

“The situation surrounding the Japan-China relationship is markedly deteriorating,” Kishida told Cheng according to the ministry’s statement on its website.  “We cannot accept that (China) is taking actions that unilaterally raise tensions.”

Cheng said he told Kishida that the Senkaku or Diaoyu islands, claimed by both countries, were an integral part of China's territory and that the two nations' dispute should be resolved through diplomacy and dialogue.

"I told him that the Diaoyu (islands) are an integral part of Chinese territory and that it is natural that Chinese ships conduct activity in the waters in question," Cheng told reporters after meeting with Kishida.

Tension between the two nations has risen as Japan confirmed an increasing number of Chinese government ships sailing near the uninhabited islets called Senkaku in Japan and Diaoyu in China over the last few days.

 The move comes 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.  

Cheng was also summoned on Friday by vice minister Shinsuke Sugiyama after two Chinese coast guard and fishing vessels entered Japan’s territorial waters.  

On Tuesday morning, the Japan Coast Guard said it spotted Chinese ships in the country’s territorial waters surrounding the islands and about a dozen others nearby.  

The Japanese coastguard a day before 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 island on Sunday.  

It is rare for so many Chinese fishing vessels to be seen in the disputed waters.  

Tensions over the islands have been a frequent irritant and have strained bilateral relations, though tensions had markedly relaxed over the past two years as two sides took steps to ease the pressure through dialogue.  

But the fundamental divide over the islands remains unresolved.  Japan’s Kyodo News reported 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.  

Japan protested in June after it said a Chinese navy frigate sailed close to territorial waters near the islands for the first time.