China has sent a stern message to Japan, warning it not to take “provocative” action around a group of disputed islets in the East China Sea. Raising the pitch, it further said Tokyo would have to bear the consequences. On January 12, Japan said it had told China that any foreign naval vessel entering Japanese waters for reasons other than “innocent passage” will be told to leave by a Japanese naval patrol.
The allegations and counter-allegations between the two countries could potentially escalate tensions in the region. According to Japan, in 2015, Chinese navy ships sailed near the disputed isles. Responding to Japan’s announcement, China’s Foreign Ministry spokesman Hong Lei said China had the right to carry out “normal navigation and patrol activities” around the islands.
“We advise Japan against taking provocative acts or doing anything to raise tensions, otherwise it will have to accept responsibility for everything that happens,” he told a news briefing, without elaborating.
In an editorial, the state-run Global Times said if Japan sent its navy in, China would have to send in its warships too. “China can send as many warships to the Diaoyu Islands as Japan does,” the editorial said. The dispute over the uninhabited islands, which are under Japan’s control, has been a major point of contention in the relations between the two countries in recent years.
In 2015, a Chinese coastguard vessel with what appeared to be gun turrets entered territorial waters claimed by Japan. Japan’s coastguard said that it was the first such incursion by an armed Chinese vessel in the area.
China’s growing assertion in the region has led to Japan forming alliances with India, US and Australia to enhance maritime cooperation. Japan has held joint naval exercises with India and US. Japan’s alliances with India and US have fueled a sense of insecurity in China.
(Sridhar Ramaswamy contributed inputs to this article)
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