Japan summoned China’s envoy yesterday for the third time this year as a row over disputed islands that this week drew in the two nations’ navies descended into a bitter war of words.
Tokyo says a Chinese frigate got a radar lock on one of its destroyers in international waters last month, a procedure known as “painting” that is necessary to fire modern weapons systems.
Beijing’s flat denial yesterday sparked an angry reaction in Japan, where Japanese Vice Foreign Minister Chikao Kawai told Chinese ambassador Cheng Yonghua (程永華) the response was “totally unacceptable.”
Beijing for its part has accused Tokyo of hyping the “China threat” in a bid to manipulate world public opinion against its giant neighbor.
The radar incident, which Japan said happened last week, marked the first time the two nations’ navies have locked horns in the spat over the Tokyo-controlled Senkakus, which Taiwan claims as the Diaoyutai Islands (釣魚台), and which China also claims.
Tokyo also charges that a Chinese frigate “painted” one of its helicopters in the middle of last month.
On both Jan. 19 and Jan. 30 this year, China’s defense ministry said in a faxed statement, the Chinese ship-board radar maintained normal operations and “fire-control radar was not used.”
“The Japanese side’s remarks were against the facts,” it said.
“Japan unilaterally made public untrue information to the media and senior Japanese government officials made irresponsible remarks that hyped up the so-called ‘China threat,’” it added.
Tokyo had “recklessly created tension and misled international public opinion”, it said.
Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokeswoman Hua Chunying (華春瑩) later added that “Japan’s remarks are completely making something out of nothing.”
“We hope Japan will renounce its petty tricks,” she told reporters at a regular briefing.
In reply, Kawai told the ambassador that Japan expected Beijing to “sincerely fulfill its responsibility for an explanation” and take measures to prevent similar incidents, a statement said.
“We have made a cautious and elaborate analysis of this incident at the defence ministry and we have confirmed it,” Japanese Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida said.
“We told the Chinese side we cannot accept their argument and asked them for a sincere response,” he said.
Japanese Minister of Defense Itsunori Onodera said yesterday the public announcements had been made “after a special unit analyzed data on the radar contact and confirmed it. There is no mistake about it.”
Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said he wanted to change Japanese diplomacy to something “that is still polite and quiet, but vocal about our position once our sovereignty or national interest is being challenged.”
Abe on Thursday called the radar incident “extremely regrettable,” “dangerous” and “provocative,” but also said that dialogue must remain an option.
Meanwhile, Onodera yesterday accused two Russian fighter jets of intruding into Japanese air space.
Tokyo said two Russian Su-37 fighters entered Japanese air space off the northern tip of Hokkaido Island for just over a minute on Thursday, prompting Japanese Air Force jets to scramble to where the Russian jets were flying.
Russia denied any border violation, but Onodera said yesterday that Tokyo will deal with the incident “strictly, within the bounds of international law.”
The alleged intrusion happened when Japan was observing “Northern Territories Day,” when it holds annual rallies urging Russia to return a series of islands off eastern Hokkaido captured at the end of World War II. The islands, called the Southern Kurils in Russia, are 400km southeast of where the incident took place.
The verbal back-and-forth comes amid the rise of China and to a lesser extent Russia’s re-emergence as a major power in Asia, but does not point to an imminent military conflict, said Narushige Michishita, a security expert at the National Graduate Institute for Policy Studies in Tokyo.
“That’s been encouraging them to be more assertive and more active both on the diplomatic front and military front in this region,” Michishita said.
China and Russia may also be trying to test Abe, who has a reputation as a staunch nationalist and came to office late last year pledging to defend Japan’s sovereignty and get tough with neighbors in territorial disputes.
“In the short run, this is happening I think partly in reaction to Mr Abe’s return to office,” Michishita said.