Japan rejected Chinese protests yesterday over the raising of a Japanese flag on disputed islands, but sounded a placatory note, saying ties with Beijing are among the “most important” it has.
Tokyo stood firm in its insistence that islands where Japanese nationalists landed on Sunday, which it administers, were part of its territory, but said it wanted to improve ties with China.
The comments came as Chinese media rounded on Japan after street protests erupted across China over a series of moves that Beijing considers provocative.
Japanese Chief Cabinet Secretary Osamu Fujimura said Taipei and Beijing, which both claim the islands, objected after 10 Japanese nationalists landed on an islet in what Japan calls the Senkakus and Taiwan calls the Diaoyutai Islands (釣魚台).
Sunday’s flag-raising came just days after Tokyo deported pro-Beijing protesters who had landed on the same island.
“We have explained our nation’s basic position and told them that we cannot accept their claims,” Fujimura told a news conference in Tokyo. “There is no doubt that the islands are our sovereign territory historically and under international law, and our nation controls the islands.”
Despite their large and mutually important trade relationship, ties between Tokyo and Beijing are often blighted by historical animosities, especially war-time atrocities carried out by the invading Japanese army.
However, Fujimura said that neither Tokyo nor Beijing had any interest in seeing overall relations affected by the dispute over the islands, whose seabed is believed to harbor rich mineral resources.
“The Japan-China relationship is one of the most important bilateral ties for Japan,” he said.
“China’s constructive role is necessary for the stability and prosperity of the Asia-Pacific region,” he said. “We would like to continue to further progress mutually beneficial relations between Japan and China.”
Sentiment in the Chinese media was more strident, after thousands of people in more than 20 cities protested on Sunday in what some analysts said was the biggest wave of anti-Japanese sentiment since 2005, when several cities were rocked by violent demonstrations.
“Japan is building another wall in its relations with China and the Japanese intruders and their government seem hell-bent on freezing Sino-Japanese ties,” the English-language China Daily said in an editorial. “It would be a mistake for Japan to see China’s use of reason and restraint to deal with the Diaoyu Islands dispute as its weakness.”
The People’s Daily newspaper, the mouthpiece of the Chinese Communist Party, said Japan should recognize the consequences of its actions, which damaged Sino-Japanese relations.
The Global Times newspaper, known for its nationalistic stance, said China could reciprocate if Japan increased its defense of the islands.
“China will definitely take further steps regarding Diaoyu,” it said. “The reluctance to resort to military means doesn’t mean China is afraid of war.”
Fujimura called on the Chinese government to ensure the safety of Japanese nationals in China after Japanese businesses, restaurants and cars were targeted.
The Japanese foreign ministry has separately issued a travel advisory, telling its nationals to be on alert while staying in the country.