South China Sea spat: Japan voices 'strong concerns'

Tokyo reacts to reports of Chinese ships ramming Viet vessels

JAPAN has expressed "strong concerns" about China's behaviour in its latest maritime spat with Vietnam and urged Beijing to act with restraint in accordance with international law.

Japan's top government spokesman Yoshihide Suga, who made the remarks, was reacting to reports that Chinese vessels intentionally rammed Vietnamese patrol ships and turned water cannon on them near a drilling rig in a contested corner of the South China Sea. Vietnamese reports said six people were injured.

"We have strong concerns as there is information that many Vietnamese vessels were damaged and some people were injured," the Chief Cabinet Secretary told reporters in Tokyo yesterday.

"We recognise this incident to be part of China's unilateral and provocative maritime activities," he added.

Mr Suga urged China to explain to Vietnam and the international community the basis of its actions and said Beijing should refrain from provocative moves and should act in a "self-restrained manner".

Japan's call underlines concerns in Tokyo about its own longstanding dispute with China over the Japanese-administered Senkaku islands, which the Chinese call Diaoyu.

In Beijing, Vice-Foreign Minister Cheng Guoping told reporters on the sidelines of a forum yesterday that China and Vietnam could resolve disputes at sea peacefully.

The recent incident, he said, was not a "clash".

Tensions between China and Vietnam have mounted rapidly since Beijing announced last week that it would relocate the rig closer to the Paracel Islands, which are controlled by China and claimed by Vietnam.

United States State Department spokesman Jen Psaki described as "provocative" China's decision to introduce an oil rig accompanied by government vessels in waters long disputed by Vietnam.

"This unilateral action appears to be part of a broader pattern of Chinese behaviour to advance its claims over disputed territory in a manner that undermines peace and stability in the region," she said.

Meanwhile, tensions have also flared up between the Philippines and China over the disputed Spratly Islands that the Chinese call Nansha.

Manila police yesterday said 11 crewmen of a Chinese fishing boat who were detained off Half Moon Shoal in the Spratlys on Tuesday will be charged with illegal entry.

The men were found 106km from Palawan island, well within the Philippines' 320km exclusive economic zone, said Philippine National Police (PNP) chief Alan Purisima.

A presidential spokesman said the arrests were made in accordance with the PNP's duty to "enforce environmental protection and wildlife conservation laws, while upholding Philippines' sovereign rights over our exclusive economic zone".

More than 400 sea turtles were found on the Chinese ship, nearly half of them dead.

The presidential spokesman said the case would be pursued "in a just, humane and expeditious manner".

Beijing has demanded that the 11 crewmen be released.