China demanded yesterday that Japan cease actions “harming” its territorial sovereignty amid an escalating row over disputed islands as a Japanese group prepared to sail to the Diaoyutais (釣魚台).
The foreign ministry statement was in response to plans by a group of Japanese lawmakers and nationalists to visit the East China Sea islands after Tokyo deported pro-China activists who had sailed there from Hong Kong.
“China has made solemn representations to Japan, demanding that it immediately cease actions harming China’s territorial sovereignty,” said the statement, which was in response to a media query on the planned Japanese trip.
“China reiterates that any unilateral action taken by Japan regarding” the islands “are illegal and invalid,” the statement said, adding that any such actions would not undermine its claim over the territory.
It follows another statement late on Friday that called on Japan to pursue “dialogue and negotiation” to resolve the dispute.
Japan, which controls the uninhabited islands, on Friday deported 14 activists who had sailed there, moving swiftly to put an end to a potentially damaging row with Beijing.
Some of them became the first non-Japanese to set foot on any part of the archipelago — known as the Diaoyutais in Taiwan and China and Senkaku in Japan — since 2004.
However, Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda has come under fire from conservative lawmakers — including members of the main opposition Liberal Democratic Party and nationalist Tokyo Governor Shintaro Ishihara — for not allowing the activists to be held for prosecution.
The long-running dispute flares up from time to time and has proven a stumbling block — along with issues related to Japan’s military occupation of parts of China during World War II — to smooth relations between Asia’s two biggest economies.
The renewed dispute comes as tensions also spiked between Tokyo and Seoul after South Korean President Lee Myung-bak on Aug. 10 visited a separate group of islands, known as Takeshima in Japan and Dokdo in South Korea. The islets are controlled by Seoul, but claimed by Tokyo.
Japan also has a separate territorial dispute with Russia over northern islands seized by the Soviet Union in the waning days of World War II.
The ruling party policy chief said yesterday that Japan should strengthen its coast guard to defend disputed islands.
“Coast guard officials are doing their best, and so the government and the ruling parties will discuss how to strengthen our backup to them,” Democratic Party of Japan policy chief Seiji Maehara told reporters.
“We should discuss not only [increasing] the number of staff and ships, but also possibilities of various other supports” to the coast guard, he said.
Members of his ruling party also complained that the coast guard failed to block the activists’ landing, the Yomiuri Shimbun reported yesterday.
With the hasty deportation, Noda’s government sought a swift end to the potentially damaging row with China because Japan cannot afford squabbles with China and South Korea at the same time, the Yomiuri and Mainichi newspapers said, without disclosing sources.
In a statement issued late on Friday, China called on Japan to pursue “dialogue and negotiation” to resolve the two countries’ territorial dispute over the islands, which are also claimed by Taiwan.