Kyodo via AP Images
Japan's Chief Cabinet Secretary Takeo

Japan, China Clash in East China Sea Over Disputed Islands

December 10, 2008 08:58 AM
by findingDulcinea Staff
The Japanese coast guard has asked two Chinese research ships to leave disputed waters near the islands, which are claimed by Japan, China and Taiwan.

Japan Requests that Ships Leave Area

The Japanese Ministry of Foreign Affairs complained to the Chinese government soon after the alleged incursion took place on Monday morning, Chief Cabinet Secretary Takeo Kawamura said, according to Bloomberg.

“Such activity is extremely regrettable and we demand immediate withdrawal,” Kawamura said, adding that the ships were still in the disputed waters Monday afternoon.

China’s Foreign Ministry said on Tuesday that the two ships, which spent approximately nine hours near the islands, were on “normal patrol” in an area under Chinese jurisdiction. “The Diaoyu islands and their adjacent islets are inseparable parts of the Chinese territory and it’s justified that Chinese ships have normal patrol activities in the waters under Chinese jurisdiction,” Foreign Ministry spokesman Liu Jianchao said, according to The Associated Press. “I cannot accept that China has done any provocative activities in these waters,” he added.

The islands, which are located roughly midway between Taiwan and Okinawa, Japan, are known as Senkaku in Japanese and Diaoyutai in Chinese and are currently under Japanese control. They were given to Tokyo in 1972 after being administered by the United States after World War II. But China claims that the islands have been part of its territory since ancient times.

Kyodo News Service reports that a Japanese patrol boat observed the Chinese ships in Japanese territorial waters around 8:10 a.m., about 6 km southeast of Uotsuri Island. The Japanese coast guard says this is the first time since 2004 that Chinese ships have entered into the disputed area.

The incident comes ahead of a trilateral summit with Japanese Prime Minister Taro Aso, Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao and South Korea President Lee Myung-bak scheduled for Dec. 13.

Background: Japan-China relations

Tension between the two neighboring countries dates back centuries. China accuses Japan of abuses and war crimes during its 1931–1945 occupation of China; a few decades earlier, Japan defeated China in the 1894–1895 Sino-Japanese War. Japanese leaders also continue to cause Chinese outrage by visiting the Yasukuni Shrine, which entombs convicted war criminals. The Council on Foreign Relations states that today, economic issues, Japan’s close ties with the United States, and trade disputes continue to cause problems between the two countries.

More recently in May, Chinese President Hu Jintao visited Japan, hoping to improve friendship and cooperation between the two countries. But he had a tough task, as a poll taken before his visit found that 51 percent of Japanese people thought Japan should be tougher with China. “The ratio was twice as large as the 26 percent who wanted Japan to be “more friendly” toward China, according to Agence France-Presse.

Related Topics: Other border disputes in Asia

Japan has also been embroiled in a longstanding territorial dispute with South Korea, over a separate small set of islands—this one in the Sea of Japan, or as the Koreans call it, the East Sea. In July the South Korean government said it would recall its ambassador to Tokyo after Japan released a junior high school textbook that made claim to the islands, called Dokdo in Korea and Takeshima in Japan. The largely uninhabited rocky island group is surrounded by fishing grounds and possibly valuable undersea natural gas deposits.

In Southeast Asia, Thai and Cambodian troops faced off last summer over disputed land near a Cambodian temple recently designated a global landmark by the United Nations. Officials from both countries tried to negotiate a standoff after 200 Thai soldiers crossed the border following the detainment of three Thai activists who tried to plant a Thai flag on the Preah Vihear temple grounds, a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Iran and the United Arab Emirates have also sparred over three islands in the Strait of Hormuz called Abu Mousa, the Larger Tunb and the Lesser Tunb. In August, the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC), consisting of Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Qatar, Kuwait, Oman and the UAE, criticized Iran for opening a maritime rescue office and ship registration office on one of the three islands.

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