Beijing accuses Tokyo of heightening isles tension

By William Lowther  /  Staff reporter in Washington, with Reuters, BEIJING

Sat, Jan 12, 2013 - Page 1

China accused Japan yesterday of “creating tension,” a day after China’s air force scrambled two fighters in response to a flight by Japanese jets to intercept a Chinese military plane near Japan-controlled islands, the latest incident between the countries following months of tension over the disputed islands.

China scrambled two J-10 fighters over the East China Sea after two Japanese F-15s followed a Chinese military plane “on routine patrol,” the Chinese Ministry of Defense said in a statement on its Web site.

The Chinese Y-8 was flying over East China Sea oil and gas fields east of Wenzhou in China’s Zhejiang Province when it was followed at close range by the Japanese planes, the ministry said.

A third Japanese surveillance plane was flying nearby, it said.

The ministry gave no other details of the incident, while the Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs described the action by the Japanese aircraft as an “exaggeration.”

“It is understood that the flight by Chinese military planes in airspace related to the East China Sea is routine,” foreign ministry spokesman Hong Lei (洪磊) told a regular briefing. “We firmly oppose Japan’s groundless exaggeration and creating tension for the current state of affairs.”

In Tokyo, Japan’s Defense Ministry declined to comment.

It was believed to be the first time Chinese jets had scrambled against Japanese military planes since tension flared last year over a group of small islands in the East China Sea claimed by both countries.

Japan’s military has sent up jet fighters several times in recent weeks to intercept Chinese planes approaching airspace over the islands, called the Diaoyu Archipelago (釣魚群島) by China, the Senkakus by Japan and Diaoyutai Islands (釣魚台列嶼) by Taiwan, which also claims them.

In Taipei, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs yesterday called for restraint and rationality in handling the dispute over the Diaoyutais and urged the parties involved not to adopt unilateral action that could heighten tensions in the region.

Ministry spokesman Steve Hsia (夏季昌) urged all parties to engage in dialogue and put aside disputes to co-develop resources thought to exist near the islands in the East China Sea.

In a separate development, US Assistant Secretary of State Kurt Campbell and top officials from the Pentagon and White House will fly to Asia next week to help resolve the growing tensions over the Diaoyutais.

“The US government is concerned,” Campbell told a conference on Asian security held by the Carnegie Endowment on Thursday.

Asked about the possibilities of escalation — after Japan scrambled its aircraft to intercept the Chinese aircraft — Campbell said he was “involved in quiet diplomacy with friends and allies in the region.”

He said that together with US Assistant Secretary of Defense for Asian Security Affairs Mark Lippert and National Security Council Director for Asian Affairs Daniel Russel, he would visit South Korea and Japan from Monday through Thursday.

The delegation will arrive in Seoul on Tuesday and depart for Tokyo the next day, returning to Washington on Thursday.

“Our overarching message right now is that we want cooler heads to prevail,” he said.

China to recognize that “northeast Asia is the cockpit of the global economy.”

“We cannot afford for continuing tensions to degrade relations between the two most important countries in Asia, Japan and China,” he said.

Campbell said that tension over the islands was threatening “not only our security, but our economic prosperity going forward.”

The most effective diplomacy on these issues, he said, took place “behind the scenes” and the US was deeply engaged in that diplomacy and was “very active” with all involved.

In South Korea, the Washington team will also work to improve relations between Seoul and Tokyo — riven by the Japanese use of “comfort women” during World War II, and more recently by their rival claims to islands known as Dokdo in Korea and Takeshima in Japan.

Pressed about US actions over the deteriorating situation surrounding ownership of the Diaoyutais, Campbell said it was one reason why “this comprehensive team” was going into the region next week.

“This is going to be one of the top topics on the agenda,” he said.

Campbell said he was urging all parties to exercise “care and caution.”

He said the US was committed to building a “strong and multifaceted” relationship between the US and China.

“The future and the history of the 21st century is going to be written in Asia,” Campbell said.

“The lion’s share of the history is there. The wheel has turned and we are now proceeding on our national destiny, which is as an Asia-Pacific partner,” he said.

Despite current tensions, Campbell said that he could “not be more optimistic about the period ahead.”

He said the US had “turned a corner” and realized that its destiny was in Asia.

However, “persuasion and speeches” would not be enough and action was needed, he said.

“America’s friends” in Asia were “careful, strategic and very cautious,” he said.

It was going to take several more years to “sustain, strengthen and cement” the US rebalancing toward Asia, but he stressed that he believed it was “the most important strategic innovation in American foreign policy in 50 years.”

Additional reporting by CNA