Abe Warns China on Island Spat as Japan Dispatches Jets

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe warned he wouldn’t permit China to use force to resolve territorial spats, as the renewed presence of Chinese aircraft near disputed islands led its neighbor to dispatch fighter jets.

Japan sent up fighter jets for a third day yesterday after Chinese aircraft flew between its southern islands without entering Japanese airspace, the Self-Defense Forces said on their website. Abe said yesterday the country would not allow any shift in the status quo regarding islands both governments claim in the East China Sea. Abe made similar comments in an interview with the Wall Street Journal on Oct. 25.

“We will show the nation’s determination not to allow any change in the current situation by force,” Abe told Japanese troops in a speech at a military base on the outskirts of Tokyo, saying Japan would cooperate with countries that share its values of freedom, democracy and basic human rights. He has previously used such phrases in reference to Japan’s territorial dispute with China.

Since Japan’s September 2012 purchase of three islands also claimed by China, patrol boats from the two countries have tailed one another through the area and the row has damaged trade and tourism ties, with no summit between the leaders of Asia’s two largest economies for about 18 months. The tensions reflect China’s broader assertiveness in Asia as it extends the reach of its military, at a time Japan is also seeking a greater role in the region.

Japanese ‘Provocations’

“The repeated remarks on China by Japanese leaders are provocations,” Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying told journalists at a briefing today in Beijing. “This again shows the pretentious Japanese politicians are deceiving themselves.”

Four Chinese coast guard vessels entered what Japan regards as its territorial waters today near the disputed islands, known as Senkaku in Japanese and Diaoyu in Chinese, the Japan Coast Guard said in an e-mail message, in the first incursion since Oct. 1. The ships later left the Japanese-controlled area.

“If you look at the kind of remarks Abe has made regarding China since he came to power, it’s become clear he wants to play up the China threat rhetoric,” said Dong Wang, director of the Center for Northeast Asian Strategic Studies at Peking University. He added that Abe seemed to be making the comments to back his policy of reinterpreting Japan’s pacifist constitution.

Drone Flights

Newspaper reports that Japan is considering asserting its right to shoot down unmanned drones that come into its airspace have added to the tensions. An unidentified drone was spotted outside Japanese airspace close to the disputed islands on Sept. 9.

Chinese unmanned aircraft have not violated Japanese airspace and the shooting down of a drone would prompt retaliation, Defense Ministry Spokesman Geng Yansheng told reporters in Beijing on Oct. 26, according to a statement on the ministry’s website.

“China absolutely does not permit other countries’ aircraft to violate China’s airspace,” Geng said, according to the statement. “If the Japanese side shoots down or takes other coercive measures, to me that’s a serious provocation, it’s an act of war, and we will take decisive measures to fight back.”

Stern Protest

Japan would respond to any airspace incursion in accordance with domestic and international law, Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga told reporters today. Japan’s Foreign Ministry said last year international law allowed the government to take “necessary measures” to stop an airspace incursion.

“We are a country governed by law, so it is a matter of course for us to adhere strictly to international law,” Suga said. He added that Japan would sternly protest today’s incursion by Chinese ships.

China’s state-owned newspapers the People’s Daily and the PLA Daily carried front-page stories today lauding the country’s nuclear submarine force. The fleet is China’s trump card and terrifies its rivals, the People’s Daily said.

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