Beijing accused Tokyo Thursday of mounting a smear campaign after Japan said a Chinese frigate had locked its weapons-targeting radar on a Japanese warship in a “threat of force.”
Japan Maritime Self-Defense Force destroyer Yuudachi is seen in this undated handout photo released by Japan Maritime Self-Defense Force and obtained by Reuters on February 5, 2013. A Chinese vessel pointed a type of radar normally used to help guide missiles at a Japanese navy ship near disputed East China Sea islets, prompting the Japanese government to lodge a protest with China. Image by: HANDOUT / REUTERS
The world’s second- and third-largest economies are at loggerheads over uninhabited Japanese-controlled islands in the East China Sea, known as Senkaku in Tokyo and Diaoyu by Beijing, which claims them.
The radar incident, which Japan said happened last week, marked the first time the two nations’ navies have locked horns in a dispute that has some commentators warning about a possible armed conflict.
Asked to respond to Japanese Defense Minister Itsunori Onodera’s description of the radar targeting as a “threat of force”, Beijing foreign ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying said: “Recently Japan has been hyping up crisis and deliberately creating tension to smear China’s image.
“This move is counter to the improvement of relations,” she told a regular briefing.
“The current problem is not China being assertive but about Japanese ships’ and airplanes’ repeated illegal activities in the airspace and waters of the Diaoyu islands, which undermine China’s territorial sovereignty.”
The long-running row over the islands intensified in September when Tokyo nationalised part of the chain, triggering fury in Beijing and huge anti-Japan demonstrations across China.
Beijing has repeatedly sent ships and aircraft near the islands and both sides have scrambled fighter jets, though there have been no clashes.
The Chinese Defense Ministry has denied that a Chinese navy vessel aimed weapon-targeting radar at a Japanese navy ship in the East China Sea. It’s also called on Japan to stop violating China’s territorial sovereignty.
The Ministry says the vessel was conducting normal training on January 30th, when it detected a Japanese naval ship following it. The Chinese vessel used normal radar to monitor, contrary to Japanese claims.
The Chinese Foreign Ministry also says Japan is provoking tension over the Diaoyu islands by intentionally stirring up a crisis. It says Japan is continuously sending its ships and aircraft into the waters and airspace around the Diaoyu Islands to carry out illegal activities.
China and Japan engaged on Friday in a fresh round of invective over military movements near a disputed group of uninhabited islands, fueling tensions that for months have bedevilled relations between the two major Asian powers.
China’s defense ministry rejected a Japanese allegation that a naval vessel had aimed a weapons-targeting radar at a Japanese military ship in the East China Sea, its first comment on the week-old incident. It said Japan’s intrusive tracking of Chinese vessels was the “root cause” of the renewed tension.
A Japanese official on Friday dismissed the Chinese explanation for the Jan 30 incident. He said Beijing’s actions could precipitate a dangerous situation in waters around the islets, known as Diaoyu in China and Senkaku in Japan, believed to be rich in oil and gas.
China’s defense ministry, in a faxed statement issued late on Thursday, said Japan’s remarks “do not match the facts”. The Chinese ship’s radar, it said, had maintained regular alerting operations and “did not use fire control radar.”
The ministry said the Chinese ship was tracked by a Japanese destroyer during routine training exercises. Fire control radar pinpoints the location of a target for missiles or shells and its use can be considered a step short of actual firing.
Japan, it said, had recently “made irresponsible remarks that hyped up the so-called ‘China threat’, recklessly created tension and misled international public opinion.
“In recent years, Japanese warships and airplanes have often conducted long periods of close-range tracking and surveillance of China’s naval ships and airplanes. This is the root cause of air and maritime security issues between China and Japan.”
In Tokyo, Japan’s Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga told a news conference on Friday: “We cannot accept China’s explanation.”
Japan’s allegations, he said, had been “a result of our defense ministry’s careful and detailed analysis. We urge China to take sincere measures to prevent dangerous actions which could cause a contingency situation.”
Defense Minister Itsunori Onodera said this week that the incident could have become very dangerous very quickly, and that use of the radar could be seen as a threat of military force under U.N. rules.
Hopes have been rising in recent weeks for a thaw in ties after months of tension, sparked, in part, by Japan’s nationalisation of three of the privately owned islets last September.
Fears that encounters between aircraft and ships could degenerate into an accidental clash have given impetus to efforts to improve links, including a possible summit between Abe and Chinese leader Xi Jinping, who takes over as head of state in March.
China’s premier-in-waiting Li Keqiang, meanwhile, urged marine surveillance staff on Thursday to intensify law enforcement in China’s sea territories, according to the official Xinhua news agency.
“Supervising and governing seas under the jurisdiction of China is the main responsibility of Chinese marine surveillance staff,” Li, who is expected to take over as China’s premier next month, was quoted as saying.
It is believed the island chain—which is also claimed by Taiwan (a province of China)
Sources: AFP/Japan Todayh/Reauters/CCTV