Japan summons Chinese envoy amid ship ‘incursions’

Japan summons Chinese envoy amid ship ‘incursions’

Japan summons Chinese envoy amid ship ‘incursions’

Japan's Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida (L) and China's Ambassador to Japan Cheng Yonghua (R) sit across the table during a meeting at the Japanese Foreign Ministry in Tokyo on August 9, 2016. AFP photo

Japan summoned China’s ambassador Aug. 9 after the country’s ships were spotted near disputed East China Sea islands for a fifth straight day.

Japanese Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida called in Cheng Yonghua, Beijing’s envoy to Tokyo, the foreign ministry said - the second such summons since Aug. 5.

“The situation surrounding the Japan-China relationship is markedly deteriorating,” Fumio told Cheng, according to the ministry’s statement on its website, AFP reported.

“We cannot accept that [China] is taking actions that unilaterally raise tensions.” 

Cheng told reporters after the meeting he reiterated Beijing’s official stance that the islands belong to China and called it “only natural” that Chinese ships “operate in this region.”

The two countries are locked in a long-running dispute over the uninhabited islets known as the Senkaku in Japan and the Diaoyu in China.

The move comes after repeated protests by Japanese foreign ministry officials since Aug. 5 over what Tokyo calls “intrusions” by Chinese ships in the territorial and contiguous waters of the rocky islands.

Cheng was also summoned on Aug. 5 by Vice-Minister Shinsuke Sugiyama after two Chinese coast guard and fishing vessels entered Japan’s territorial waters.

On the morning of Aug. 9, the Japan Coast Guard said it spotted Chinese ships in the country’s territorial waters surrounding the islands and about a dozen others nearby.

The Japanese coast guard a day before caught sight of 15 Chinese coast guard ships near the islands -- the highest number ever spotted.

Some 230 Chinese fishing vessels and seven coast guard ships, including four apparently carrying weapons, sailed into waters close to the disputed island on Aug. 7.

It is rare for so many Chinese fishing vessels to be seen in the disputed waters.

Meanwhile, the visit of the U.S. Navy guided missile destroyer USS Benfold to the northern Chinese port of Qingdao this week is the latest development in a long-term effort to build trust between the countries’ militaries amid tensions and a rivalry for dominance in Asia, the Associated Press reported.

Though China resents the highly visible presence of the U.S. armed forces in Asia, especially the South China Sea, it has gradually overcome its reluctance and shown a willingness to engage that the sides hope will help avoid conflicts

The Benfold’s visit is the first to China by an American warship since Beijing responded furiously to a Hague-based international arbitration tribunal’s ruling that its expansive South China Sea maritime claims had no basis in law. The fact the visit went ahead appears to show that Beijing now values the military-to-military relationship too much to allow it to be derailed by other events as was once the case. Qingdao is the base of China’s northern fleet and is thus less sensitive than ports to the south closer to hotspots, such as Taiwan and the South China Sea.