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International relations

Japan defense chief calls for China's restraint on the Senkakus

Kishi and Wei agree on creation of hotline to avoid accidental clashes

A Japan Coast Guard boat near the Senkaku Islands: Chinese government vessels have been spotted frequently near the Japan-administered chain in recent months.   © Reuters

TOKYO -- Japan's defense chief on Monday urged Beijing to exercise restraint as bilateral tensions rise over Chinese incursions into Japanese territorial waters near the Senkaku Islands in the East China Sea.

Defense Minister Nobuo Kishi held a 95-minute videoconference with Chinese counterpart Wei Fenghe, their first official meeting since the Japanese minister took the post.

Expressing strong concern over recent Chinese activity around the Japan-administered Senkakus, which China claims and calls the Diaoyu, Kishi called Beijing's claims over the uninhabited chain "completely unacceptable." 

"I clearly communicated Japan's position that the Senkaku Islands are unquestionably our territory, both in terms of history and international law," Kishi told reporters after the meeting.

Meanwhile, Wei stressed Beijing's "unwavering" commitment to defending its territorial sovereignty and maritime interests, the Chinese Defense Ministry said.

Still, they agreed on quickly establishing a hotline between Japanese and Chinese defense authorities. This connection was envisioned as part of the bilateral Maritime and Aerial Communication Mechanism agreed to in 2018. The speedy creation of a defense hotline also was affirmed in December 2019 by Wei and Taro Kono, then Japan's defense minister.

Japanese Defense Minister Nobuo Kishi, left, speaks with Chinese counterpart Wei Fenghe via videoconference on Dec. 14. (Photo courtesy of Japan's Ministry of Defense)

China has ramped up its maritime activity near the Senkakus recently, with four government vessels entering Japanese territorial waters around the islands on Wednesday. A Japan Coast Guard vessel urged them to leave the area, and Tokyo lodged a complaint with Beijing over the incident.

When Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi met with Japanese counterpart Toshimitsu Motegi in Tokyo in November, he stressed Beijing's claims over the Senkakus in a joint news conference afterward.

Kishi on Monday also expressed concern over Chinese activity in the South China Sea. He urged Beijing to dispel the international community's concerns over the area through increased transparency on its defense policies and military power.

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