Diaoyu Islands

Japan boosts security at Diaoyus on anniversary of ‘acquisition’

Tokyo steps up patrols in answer to Chinese incursions on the anniversary of government's controversial acquisition of disputed islands

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 12 September, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 12 September, 2013, 5:53am

Japan has boosted security around the disputed islands it nationalised a year ago yesterday amid protests from China, which also claims them and has been stepping up patrols of its own.

Tokyo and Beijing are at odds over the uninhabited islands in the East China Sea, called the Diaoyu Islands by China, and the Senkakus by Japanese.

Yesterday marked the first anniversary of the Japanese government's purchase of several of the islands from their private owners - a sale China says was invalid. Both countries have since regularly sent coastguard vessels and aircraft to the area to assert their claims.

The Japanese defence minister, Itsunori Onodera, said surveillance had been increased in the area for the anniversary, but gave no details. No incidents were reported as of early yesterday afternoon.

The stand-off, which shows no sign of abating, has deeply damaged diplomatic relations between the two Asian powers and heightened concerns of a possible military clash.

Japan lodged a protest after eight Chinese vessels on Tuesday briefly entered waters Tokyo claims near the islands. Japanese fighter jets were scrambled on Monday when a Chinese military aircraft believed to be a drone was spotted. Though the drone remained in international airspace, Japan expressed concern about the increased activity.

So far, Tokyo and Beijing have been careful to calibrate their actions to avoid an armed incident.

But with neither side backing down or wanting to look weak, the dispute continues to simmer. In a statement that appeared to up the ante, Japanese Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga said on Tuesday that Tokyo considered deploying personnel to the islands an option.

No one lives on the islands, and China immediately called the remarks provocative.

"If they do provoke, they must be prepared to take the consequences," Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Hong Lei said on Tuesday in Beijing.

Stationing public servants on the islands was a campaign promise made by Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's hawkish ruling party, which is also pushing to give Japan's military a more assertive role in international peacekeeping and in stepping up territorial defences.

The islands, also claimed by Taiwan, are 2,000 kilometres southwest of Tokyo, at the western end of Okinawa prefecture.