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China and Japan

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Japan PM Vows to Protect Disputed Islands from China--Beijing Reacts

February 3rd 2013

Soldiers

The Japanese Coast Guard has intercepted a Chinese fishing boat near Japan's southern island of Okinawa and detained its captain on suspicion of unauthorized fishing in Japan's Exclusive Economic Zone. The Coast Guard said the Chinese boat was stopped some 40 kilometers off Miyaki island, about 150 kilometers from islands in the East China Sea that are claimed by China, Japan and Taiwan.  The Coast Guard said the Chinese vessel had a crew of 13. A long-simmering dispute over control of the islands - known as the Senkaku in Japan and the Diaoyu in China - has escalated in recent months, as China seeks to assert its claim to wide swaths of the East and the South China seas. Both sides have scrambled fighter jets and deployed patrol ships as tensions have risen.

Earlier Saturday, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe told Coast Guard members in Okinawa that Japan would defend the disputed islands at all costs. "Since the country has acquired the ownership of the Senkaku islands, there has been an increase in incursions and patrols by Chinese government vessels.  I highly commend the daily work and the effect that you of the Coast Guard [have] as you protect the waters around our country," he said. Abe also warned that the security situation regarding the islands was likely to get worse before it gets better.

"It can be predicted that the situation in the southwestern ocean will continue to be difficult. I hope that you of the Coast Guard will continue in your work of protecting Japan's sovereignty," he said. Japan's Kyodo news agency said Saturday's action marked the first time Japan has detained a Chinese fishing boat in the Okinawa region since September 2010, when Japan arrested a Chinese trawler captain after he rammed his vessel into two Japanese Coast Guard cutters.
The arrest sparked a furious diplomatic exchange, before the captain was released weeks later without prosecution. Late last month, Japanese Coast Guard vessels used water cannons to repel a ship carrying Taiwanese activists who were headed to the disputed island. Japan said the Taiwanese vessel and four escort ships were turned back about 30 kilometers from the island.

China has responded by increasing the number of maritime ships and planes it sends to the area which in turn has resulted in Japan scrambling fighter jets. The debate in Japan is now turning to whether the jets should be authorised to fire warning shots. Last week, the Chinese government sent a civilian surveillance plane, a twin propeller aircraft, to fly near the uninhabited islands at the heart of a growing feud between China and Japan. Tokyo, in response, ordered F-15 fighter jets to take a look at what it considered Chinese meddling. The Chinese then sent their own fighters.

The New York Times reported: "The escalation comes amid a blast of belligerent discourse in China and as the Obama administration has delayed a visit to Washington requested by Shinzo Abe, the new prime minister of Japan, the United States’ main ally in Asia. After the rebuff, Mr. Abe announced that he would embark on a tour of Southeast Asia intended to counter China’s influence in the region. On Friday, as Mr. Abe cut short his trip to return to Tokyo to deal with the hostage crisis in Algeria, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton said in Washington that Mr. Abe would meet with President Obama in the second half of February."


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