Japan brushed off stern warnings by China and bought several islands yesterday that both claim, and Chinese official media said Beijing had sent two patrol ships to waters surrounding the islands to reassert its claim.
China accused Japan of “playing with fire” over the long-simmering row. The army warned that further, unspecified steps could follow.
“The Chinese military expresses its staunch opposition and strong protest over this,” Chinese Defense Ministry spokesman Geng Yansheng (耿雁生) said in remarks posted on the ministry’s Web site.
“The Chinese government and military are unwavering in their determination and will to defend national territorial sovereignty. We are closely following developments, and reserve the power to adopt corresponding measures,” he said.
Tokyo insisted it had only peaceful intentions in making the ￥2.05 billion (US$26.18 million) purchase of three uninhabited islands in the East China Sea, until now leased by the government from a Japanese family that has owned them since the early 1970s.
Japanese Foreign Minister Koichiro Gemba repeated Japan’s line that the purchase served “peaceful and stable maintenance of the islands.”
“We cannot damage the stable development of the Japan-China relationship because of that issue. Both nations need to act calmly and from a broad perspective,” he told reporters after a Cabinet meeting approved the transaction.
The Japanese Coast Guard will administer the islands, called the Senkakus in Japan and Diaoyu Archipelago (釣魚群島) in China.
Geng accused Japan of “using all kinds of excuses to expand its armaments and repeatedly creating regional tensions.”
Xinhua news agency reported that two China Marine Surveillance (CMS) vessels reached the waters around the islets yesterday morning. The Japanese Coast Guard could not confirm the report about the CMS vessels.
The news triggered small-scale protests in front of the tightly guarded Japanese embassy in Beijing.
Microbloggers on Sina Weibo also reported small anti-Japanese protests in Weihai and Chongqing.
Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda, in an address to senior military officers, made no direct reference to the islands dispute, but pointed to China’s growing military clout as one of challenges Japan had to contend with.
The Japanese foreign ministry said it was sending its Asia department chief to Beijing yesterday for talks to “avoid misunderstanding and lack of explanation on the issue.”