China’s incursion this week into Japanese waters was “serious” and “extremely regrettable,” a Cabinet official said yesterday, a year after Japan purchased the disputed islands and sparked protests in Chinese cities.
Deputy Chief Cabinet Secretary Katsunobu Kato spoke at a briefing in Tokyo a day after Japan lodged a diplomatic protest when eight Chinese ships entered waters near the islands, called Senkaku in Japanese and Diaoyu in Chinese on Sept 10. Foreign Ministry spokesman Hong Lei said China is “strongly dissatisfied” with Japan’s response to its patrols and that the country should “face reality and history.”
The approach of the anniversary saw stepped up Chinese patrols and flights near the islands, which are at the center of a diplomatic quarrel that damaged trade between Asia’s two biggest economies. While protests against Japanese businesses eased days after the government bought three of the five islands last year, the two sides are no closer to resolving the dispute.
“The political relationship could not be worse and that is affecting the economic relationship,” said Jun Okumura, senior adviser to the Eurasia Group in Tokyo. “Japanese businesses have not recovered all the ground they lost.”
Chinese imports from Japan fell 37 percent in the months after the purchase last year and still haven’t fully recovered. The August import figure of $14.1 billion was 12.9 percent less than the level of September 2012.
Japan dispatched fighter jets on Sept. 9 when an unidentified aerial drone was spotted near the islands and also deployed jets on Sept. 8 after Chinese H-6 bombers flew between its main southern island of Okinawa and Miyako-jima about 280 kilometers (174 miles) further southwest, without entering Japanese airspace, the Defense Ministry said in a statement on its website on Sept. 9. China said the flight was legal and that it would continue such maneuvers.
On Sept. 10, Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga said Japan would do everything in its power to protect its people, territory and airspace. Asked if that could include stationing public officials on the islands, he said that was “one option to be considered.”
That drew a swift response from Hong at a briefing. “Japan should bear the consequences of all its provocative actions,” he said. A commentary on the official Xinhua News Agency yesterday went further.
‘High’ on Nationalism
“Japan is still high on its brew of nationalism and manufactured sense of aggression, though it has been vowing to save its relations with China from the current downturn,” the commentary said. It called Prime Minister Shinzo Abe “Dr. Feelgood” for providing what it called medication to the country’s conservatives.
During last year’s protests, hundreds of demonstrators marched outside the Japanese embassy in Beijing, while Toyota Motor Corp. and Honda Motor Co. reported that dealerships in the country were set ablaze.
On a visit to Beijing on Sept. 10, James Miller, U.S. under secretary of defense for policy, said he told Chinese officials it’s “critically important” that the dispute not be addressed through the threat or use of force.
No formal bilateral summit has been held between Japan and China for more than a year. Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and Chinese President Xi Jinping only spoke briefly during a Group of 20 summit in Russia last week.
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