Ships patrol Diaoyu Islands in advance of anniversary
China sends large coastguard flotilla to mark Japan's purchase of disputed islands last year
China and Japan entered into a fresh round of bitter exchanges over their territorial row in the East China Sea yesterday - one day ahead of the anniversary of Japan's purchase of the disputed Diaoyu Islands.
Beijing sent seven coastguard ships to patrol around the islands, which are known as the Senkakus in Japan, prompting Tokyo to lodge a formal protest and raise the possibility of stationing Japanese government workers on the island.
The latest Chinese patrol was the 59th since last September, when Tokyo announced that it would buy several of the islands, China's State Oceanic Administration said.
In response, Japanese Deputy Foreign Minister Akitaka Saiki summoned China's ambassador in Tokyo, Cheng Yonghua, to protest against the patrol. Japanese Defence Minister Itsunori Onodera said the ministry was strengthening its surveillance of the islands.
Japanese Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga said stationing government workers on the islands was an "option"..
In Beijing, Foreign Ministry spokesman Hong Lei hit back at Tokyo's claims, saying Japan has to "remedy mistakes" and China was "seriously concerned" about Japan's plans.
"Japan has to bear all the consequences if it recklessly takes provocative moves," Hong said.
The State Oceanic Administration gave detailed accounts of its law enforcement since last September. It said vessels had gone within 0.28 nautical miles of the islands during the patrols. Japanese vessels had come within 10 metres of Chinese ships.
President Xi Jinping told Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe during a brief encounter on the sidelines of a G20 summit in St Petersburg last week that Sino-Japanese ties faced "grave difficulties".
A report by Kyodo, citing Japanese government sources, said Japan was exploring a formal meeting between the two leaders at next month's Asia-Pacific Economic Co-operation summit in Indonesia, but Tokyo was also planning to set up by 2015 a special military unit dedicated to "reclaiming islands".
Da Zhigang, an expert in Japanese affairs at the Heilongjiang Academy of Social Sciences, said a quick improvement in relations is unlikely. "No one is sure if Abe is sincere or not," he said.
Additional reporting by Reuters