SINGAPORE – Japan’s Defense Minister says China’s growing maritime activity in the waters around Japan is a threat.
“We are afraid of the growing Chinese sea power across the Pacific,” Yasuhide Nakayama told CNBC’s “Street Signs Asia” on Tuesday at the Asia Summit of the Milken Institute.
China and Japan have long had a dispute over a number of uninhabited islands in the East China Sea. Known as the Diaoyu Islands to China and the Senkaku Islands to Japan, the two sides have often argued over the disputed area, but agreed last month to continue the discussions.
Nakayama’s comments come days after Japanese media reports that Japan, France and the United States will hold joint military exercises for the first time next May, according to Reuters.
“This is a message to China,” Pierre Vandier, chief of staff of the French Navy, told the Japanese newspaper Sankei. “This is a message about multilateral partnerships and freedom of passage.”
A Japanese maritime self-defense force that flies over the disputed islands known as Senkaku Islands in Japan and Diaoyu Islands in China in the East China Sea.
Japan Pool | AFP | Getty Images
An opinion piece in the state-sponsored Chinese tabloid Global Times said the military exercises show Japan is willing to rely on its allies to support its “illegal maritime claims” and curtail China’s development.
“The dispute between China and Japan over the Diaoyu Islands has been going on for a long time and China has sufficient evidence to prove that the islands have always been an integral part of Chinese territory,” the article said.
Nakayama said Beijing was “unilaterally” changing the status quo in the East China Sea. “Every day the Chinese ships, the coast guard ships, try to get into our sovereign waters,” he said.
He cited a specific incident in October where a Chinese ship stayed in Japanese waters for more than 57 hours. “This is a very big concern for us,” he said.
Nakayama also said Tokyo was concerned about Beijing’s cooperation with Moscow. He spoke about a recent incident when a Russian plane entered Japanese airspace, but disclosed few details. “This is a big problem and a big problem,” he added.
Japanese media reported last month that a Russian helicopter broke into Japanese airspace off Hokkaido on October 2, causing the Ministry of Defense to crawl fighter jets in response to the intrusion.