Japan has summoned the Chinese ambassador in Tokyo to protest the alleged violation of its waters near disputed islands at the centre of a heated territorial dispute.
Cheng Yonghua, the Chinese ambassador to Japan, was summoned to the foreign ministry in Tokyo on Wednesday and informed by Kenichiro Sasae, the vice foreign minister, that the violation of Japanese territorial waters is "extremely serious" and "unacceptable."
A few hours later, Liu Weimin, a spokesman for the Chinese Foreign Ministry in Beijing, dismissed the rebuke and said Japan had no grounds to file a complaint.
He reiterated that the five rocky islands that make up the chain, known in China as the Diaoyu Islands, are sovereign Chinese territory.
He added that the Chinese ships were "performing patrolling operations in waters administered by China".
The incident is one of the most serious confrontations since September 2010, when a Chinese fisherman deliberately rammed a Japan Coast Guard vessel after being caught operating illegally in waters around the disputed islands.
The latest confrontation has clouded a meeting between the foreign ministers of the two nations at the ASEAN conference in Cambodia.
Before sitting down to talks with Yang Jiechi, his Chinese counterpart, Koichiro Gemba, the Japanese foreign minister, said: "Through specific co-operation, we have to make Japan-China relations forward-looking.
"But at the same time, I would today like to exchange views frankly on some problems that exist between the two countries."
Japan claims that the rocky outcrops, to the west of the southernmost Japanese prefecture of Okinawa, are sovereign Japanese territory and the government last week announced a plan to purchase one of the islands from its owner, a private citizen whose family used to carry out fishing operations from the islands.
Both China and Taiwan also claim the islands as their territory and there have been periodic clashes between the Japan Coast Guard and protesters trying to land on the islands and plant the Chinese or Taiwanese flags.
Japan's position is that neither nation laid legal claim to the remote islands until the 1970s, when significant deposits of oil and natural gas were located beneath the seabed close to the islands.
There is growing concern in the western Pacific as China has similarly laid claim to islands and shoals in the South China Sea, bringing Beijing into confrontation with Vietnam, Brunei and the Philippines.
In June, the US announced that it will shift the majority of its naval fleet from the Atlantic to the Pacific by 2020.
The transfer reflects a new strategic focus on Asia, Pentagon chief Leon Panetta told the Shangri-La Dialogue of defence officials from 27 nations across Asia and the Pacific in Singapore.
Mr Panetta insisted that the shift in strategy is not a challenge to China but merely a move compatible with the development and growth of the fast-growing Asian power.----
|Liveleak on Facebook|