The Chinese military deployed its warships to the disputed Senkaku islands, a chain of uninhabited rocks in the East China Sea, amid a weeks-long diplomatic row with Japan over who has sovereignty over them.
After weeks of mulling the decision, the Japanese government on Tuesday signed a 2 billion yen (US$25 million) deal with the private owner of three of the five Senkaku, prompting warnings from Beijing.
Two patrol ships from the China Marine Surveillance, a maritime law-enforcement agency, were deployed and have reached waters near the islands on Tuesday “to assert the country’s sovereignty,” Chinese state-run media said.
The tiny islets are located approximately 125 miles from Taiwan and more than 1,200 miles from Tokyo, and are said to give the rights to reserves of natural gas, oil, and prime fishing spots in the adjoining sea. Japan has governed them since the 1970s when the United States transferred them.
Japan has now effectively nationalized the territory with the decision on Tuesday to purchase the islands from businessman Kunioki Kurihara, the Japan Times reported.
The People’s Republic of China’s (PRC) Foreign Ministry said the move is “totally illegal and invalid” and violates its sovereignty, while China’s state-run media blasted Japan.
Japan sent a high-level official to Beijing on Tuesday to diffuse tensions.
“If there is some difficult situation that could stir up national sentiments in (China and Japan), it’s quite important to prevent misunderstanding or unexpected accidents,” Chief Cabinet Secretary Osamu Fujiwara was quoted by the Times as saying. Japan bought the islands to maintain “peaceful and stable management,” he continued.
Fujiwara stressed that the purchase has nothing to do with territorial disputes, saying “this should not cause any problems with other countries.”
The move comes after Chinese Communist Party head Hu Jintao told Japanese Prime Minister Noda Yoshihiko on Sept. 9 that “Japan must fully consider the seriousness of this situation and not make the wrong decision” while the two were attending the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation summit.
A day later, Premier Wen Jiabao said the Chinese regime “will absolutely make no concession on issues concerning its sovereignty and territorial integrity,” according to state media.
To lodge a complaint with Tokyo, Foreign Minister Yang Jiechi then summoned the Japanese Ambassador to the PRC, Uichiro Niwa, whose car was recently damaged by a demonstrator protesting Japan’s assertion over the islands.
Japanese Foreign Minister Koichiro Genba stressed calm, adding that bilateral ties between the two top economies in Asia should be of paramount importance.
“The ties with China are one of the most important bilateral relationships for Japan … We must not let this issue get in the way of the stable development of Tokyo-Beijing ties,” he said, according to the Japan Times.
“We must calmly deal with the issue from a comprehensive viewpoint and continue to be able to communicate with each other to make sure there are no misunderstandings or errors in judgment,” he continued.
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