Tokyo (AsiaNews/Agencies) – Japanese Prime Minister Naoto Kan told parliament today that good ties with China are vital but expressed concerns about China's lack of transparency in strengthening its defence capabilities and about how China's maritime activities from the Indian Ocean to the East China Sea have intensified. The effects of the dispute over the Senkaku Islands continue to affect relations between the two countries.
Three Japanese citizens employed by construction firm Fujita Corp, detained on 21September for entering a military zone, returned to Japan on Friday. All three were working on an authorised plan to dispose of chemical weapons abandoned in China by the Japanese military at the end of the Second World War.
The dispute had arisen after a Chinese fishing trawler and two Japanese patrol boats collided on September 7 near the disputed Senkaku (Diaoyu for the Chinese) Islands in the East China Sea. The ship’s captain was detained provoking Beijing’s protests, which successfully secured his release without a trial.
The islands have rich fishing grounds as well as untapped oil and gas reserves. Claimed by China, they have been occupied by the Japanese for decades.
China for its part arrested four Japanese nationals on alleged espionage charges, a very serious offence. According to Chinese media, three were freed on Thursday following the release of the Chinese fishing captain, and after admitting they violated Chinese law. The fourth one, identified as Adamou Takahashi, remains under house arrest and is being investigated for illegally videotaping military targets. Tokyo expects him to be released very soon.
Japanese Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshito Sengoku said on Friday that Tokyo still “had no facts” to explain why the four men were detained.
In the meantime, China’s National Tourism Administration issued a warning to “Chinese tourists and tour groups currently in Japan or planning to go to Japan in the near future to watch their travel safety.”
The advisory came two days after an incident in Japan's southwestern Fukuoka city in which a bus with a Chinese tour group was surrounded by Japanese nationalists who then kicked it, shouting abuse at the Chinese tourists inside. The incident reportedly lasted 20 minutes.
Some Chinese schools in Japan also reported phone threats.
Now the authorities of both countries want to ease tensions. Their defence ministers are scheduled to be this month at an ASEAN defence ministers meeting in Vietnam on 12 October.
Territorial disputes remain the main obstacle to normal relations, a problem China has with other nations in East and South-East Asia.
Japan has tried to promote dialogue and international arbitration to settle the issue, but the mainland appears unwilling to let others make decisions in matters that touch its territorial integrity and sovereignty.
For its part, the United States announced it is resuming military contacts with China after they were cut off in January of this year when Washington sold weapons to Taiwan. Talks could be held in Beijing on 14-15 October.