China issues strong warning to Japan over ‘negative moves’ in East China Sea dispute

·4-min read

China’s defence ministry has urged Japan to stop making provocative moves and refrain from attacking China over disputed uninhabited islands in the East China Sea.

“China’s defence department stressed the fact that the Diaoyu Islands and its affiliated islets are all China’s inherent territory,” defence ministry spokesman Wu Qian said.

“Japan should stop all provocative moves involving the Diaoyu problem … The Chinese side also expressed strong dissatisfaction and serious concern over its recent series of negative moves against China and asked Japan to abide by international relations criteria, stop smearing China and take practical actions to maintain China-Japan relations.”

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Wu’s warning on Tuesday night came after the defence ministries of both countries held a virtual meeting on Monday on maritime and air liaison communication, a mechanism created in 2007 to improve trust and cut the chance of military miscalculation between the two countries.

China-Japan and defence experts said it was a rare move by the Chinese defence ministry to send a warning to Tokyo regarding the Diaoyu Islands – called the Senkakus in Japan – in an attempt to deter Japan from following its American ally in strengthening maritime security ties with Taiwan.

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Tension between the People’s Liberation Army and the Japanese Maritime Self-Defence Force near Diaoyu waters soared after China passed a new law in January allowing its coastguard to fire on foreign ships. Wu said the law was normal legislation and in line with international practice.

Hong Kong-based military commentator Song Zhongping said Wu’s message was a warning to Tokyo not to intervene in the Taiwan issue. Beijing sees Taiwan as a breakaway province that must be reunified with the mainland, by force if necessary.

Last week, the American Institute in Taiwan (AIT), the US de facto embassy in Taipei, signed a coastguard agreement with the self-ruled island that analysts say is intended to counter Beijing’s growing non-military “grey zone” threats from mainland China.

The memorandum of understanding is the first between Taipei and the administration of United States President Joe Biden, and covers the creation of a coastguard working group to improve communication and share information, according to the AIT.

“It’s possible for Japan to join the US in signing another MOU with Taiwan, a provocative move in the eyes of the PLA challenging Beijing’s red line on the Taiwan issue,” Song said.

“Tensions in the region will soar if Taiwan, Japan and the US join together and take the mainland as their common rival.”

Wu’s rebuke came after Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian delivered tough words two weeks ago, calling Japan a “strategic vassal” of the US’ efforts to counter China’s growing influence in the Indo-Pacific region.

The US and Japan had just wrapped up diplomatic and defence talks and delivered a joint statement singling out China as their common threat and expressing “serious concerns” over Beijing’s maritime assertiveness and human rights violations in Hong Kong and Xinjiang.

Japan, South Korea take different approaches to China relations

It was unusual for Tokyo to side with Washington over Beijing’s human rights record. Japan has also historically refrained from making comment on the Taiwan issue, instead encouraging “dialogue for a peaceful solution to cross-strait tensions”.

Cheung Mong, an associate professor at the school of international liberal studies at Waseda University in Tokyo, said Wu’s remarks were consistent with Zhao’s tough words.

“The US-Japan joint statement is aimed at declaring the ruling Liberal Democratic Party’s firmer stance toward China, a move for the LDP to avoid being attacked by domestic hardliners amid public anger over the escalating Diaoyu disputes,” Cheung said.

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