Tokyo diverting attention from unpopular measures, analysts say
China's "indisputable sovereignty" over the Diaoyu Islands in the East China Sea must be respected by Japan, China said on Wednesday, as fishery administration ships arrived in waters near the islands for the first time since Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda announced a plan on Saturday to "nationalize" them.
The Japanese media have slammed the Noda cabinet for using the islands to divert public focus from domestic politics.
Noda should engage in damage control to avoid further harming ties with China, analysts said.
Foreign Minister Yang Jiechi met with his Japanese counterpart Koichiro Gemba in Phnom Penh on Wednesday, where he reaffirmed China's stance on the Diaoyu Islands. Yang urged Tokyo to "get back to managing differences through dialogue and reconciliation''.
Tokyo was also asked to eliminate issues that continue to haunt diplomatic ties. This year marks the 40th anniversary of bilateral ties since they were normalized in 1972.
Tokyo Governor Shintaro Ishihara initiated a campaign in April to "buy" the islands. The move drew protests from Beijing and stirred up tension.
The Tokyo prefectural government said it had already collected more than 1.3 billion yen ($16.3 million) in donations.
Feng Zhaokui, a Japanese studies researcher with the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, said Noda's recent remarks over the islands risked increasing tension.
"Japan needs a statesman to properly handle the country's overall interests and the bigger picture, yet some politicians have been acting out of the interests of themselves or their parties," Feng said.
Anxiety over China is growing in Japan, especially since China passed Japan to become the second-largest economy in the world, according to Feng.
There has been growing public discontent with the Noda cabinet in Japan.
It recently pushed for an increase in the consumption tax and the restart of nuclear plants.
Former Democratic Party of Japan leader Ichiro Ozawa formally launched a new political party on Wednesday to challenge the Japanese government over its sales tax, Kyodo News Agency said.
The turbulent political landscape in Japan may see politicians playing up the islands issue, said Huo Jiangang, an expert on Japan studies at the China Institutes of Contemporary International Relations.
Japan summoned Chinese Ambassador Cheng Yonghua on Wednesday to protest against three Chinese patrol boats which approached waters off the islands for a routine check.
"China does not accept the representation lodged by the Japanese over the issue," Foreign Ministry spokesman Liu Weimin said at a Wednesday news conference.
The fishery administration vessels, Yuzheng 202, Yuzheng 204 and Yuzheng 35001, were conducting routine patrols in the East China Sea, according to the Agriculture Ministry.
The area has been a traditional fishing ground for fishermen from coastal provinces, including Fujian and Zhejiang.
Liu said that the three vessels were on patrol to beef up fishery management and their trip was in accordance with Chinese law.
The Agriculture Ministry banned fishing in the East China Sea from June 1 to protect stock. The Diaoyu Islands have been Chinese territory for centuries, Liu said.
Japan announced its plan to "nationalize" the islands days before foreign ministers gathered in the Cambodian capital, Phnom Penh, for the ASEAN Regional Forum.
The timing shows Tokyo's intention to "stir up" the issue and it also voiced support for the Philippines and Vietnam, Wang Xiaopeng, a researcher of maritime and border studies with the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, said.
Concerns have also risen in Japan over ties and the Hokkaido Shimbun urged Tokyo "not to further deteriorate" relations in an editorial.