TOKYO • Japan is searching for eight Chinese crew members who went missing when their fishing boat sank after colliding with a Greek cargo vessel near disputed East China Sea islands.
The coast guard, which dispatched a patrol boat and plane to the site after receiving a signal from the cargo ship yesterday, has rescued the six other members of the sunk vessel's 14-strong crew, a coast guard spokesman told Agence France-Presse.
"We've put priority on the search and rescue of the missing eight. We have not been able to determine the cause of the collision," she said.
China has expressed its appreciation for the rescue efforts, the Japanese Foreign Ministry said in a statement.
The accident comes after Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida on Tuesday called in Mr Cheng Yonghua, Beijing's envoy to Tokyo, following what Tokyo calls "intrusions" by Chinese ships near the disputed islands for five consecutive days.
"The situation surrounding the Japan-China relationship is markedly deteriorating," he told Mr Cheng, according to the ministry's statement on its website.
The two countries are locked in a long-running dispute over the uninhabited islets known as Senkaku in Japan and Diaoyu in China.
The Japanese coast guard on Monday caught sight of 15 Chinese coast guard ships near the islands - the highest number ever spotted in the area. Some 230 Chinese fishing vessels and seven coast guard ships, including four apparently carrying weapons, sailed into waters close to the disputed islands on Sunday.
Bilateral relations had improved over the past two years, but tension over the islands have been a frequent irritant between the countries.
Yesterday, Asahi Shimbun reported that Beijing will suspend a visit by its Assistant Foreign Minister Kong Xuanyou to Japan this month in response to Tokyo's protests against Chinese government vessels off the Senkaku islands.
Mr Kong was due to visit in the middle of the month to pave the way for Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi's participation in a trilateral foreign ministers' meeting later this month in Japan, said Asahi Shimbun, citing sources in the Japanese government.
The meeting will also involve South Korea.
The report added that the aim of the talks was to help set up a meeting between Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and Chinese leader Xi Jinping on the sidelines of the G-20 leaders' summit, which will take place on Sept 4 and 5 in the picturesque eastern Chinese city of Hangzhou.