Japanese prime minister accuses Chinese navy ship of "dangerous" act

From Yoko Wakatsuki, CNN | 2/6/2013, 4:07 p.m.
Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe on Wednesday described as "dangerous" and "regrettable" the actions of a Chinese navy ship that ...
Japanese PM Shinzo Abe delivers a speech on February 2, 2013 on Okinawa near the disputed islands.

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe on Wednesday described as "dangerous" and "regrettable" the actions of a Chinese navy ship that Tokyo says put a radar-lock on a Japanese vessel last week.

His comments come amid severely strained relations between the two Asian powers over a set of disputed islands in the East China Sea.

The tensions over the islands -- which Japan currently administers but both countries claim sovereignty over -- have resulted in maritime standoffs and the scrambling of Japanese fighter jets in recent months.

In the latest incident, Japan accused the Chinese navy ship of using radar to gather information on the location of a Japanese warship in the East China Sea. That type of radar could be used to produce data needed to fire upon the Japanese vessel.

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"This is dangerous action that could have brought about an unexpected situation," Abe, who took office in December, said in parliament Wednesday.

The prime minister, seen as more hawkish than his predecessor, Yoshihiko Noda, urged Beijing to show restraint "so that the situation doesn't escalate."

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The Japanese foreign ministry summoned the Chinese ambassador for a meeting Tuesday to lodge a formal protest regarding the accusations.

Japanese Defense Minister Itsunori Onodera said Tuesday that Tokyo also suspects that China put a radar-lock on a Japanese navy helicopter on January 19.

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China accuses Japan of provocations

China countered on Tuesday that it has been conducting regular patrols in Chinese waters and asked Japan not to interfere.

"We think the top priority for now is for Japan to stop all provocative actions it has been doing as sending ships and flights into Diaoyu islands sea and air space," Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Hua Chunying said, using the Chinese name for the disputed islands.

The Japanese call the small, uninhabited islands the Senkakus. Near them are important shipping lanes, rich fishing grounds and possible oil deposits.

The United States is "concerned" about the latest maritime incident between China and Japan, according to Victoria Nuland, the spokeswoman for the State Department.

"Actions such as this escalate tensions and increase the risk of an incident or a miscalculation, and they could undermine peace, stability and economic growth in this vital region," Nuland said at a regular news briefing Tuesday.

The United States has tried to avoid getting dragged into the dispute, saying it doesn't take sides on such competing claims of sovereignty. But officials have admitted that the islands fall under a mutual security treaty between Washington and Tokyo.

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Relations soured by a sale

Disagreement over who owns the remote, rocky islands soured diplomatic and economic relations between Japan and China since September, soon after Japan announced it had bought several of the disputed islands from private Japanese owners.

The deal was struck in part to prevent the islands from being bought by the controversial Tokyo Gov. Shintaro Ishihara, who had called for donations for a public fund to buy them.