* East China Sea remains source of tension
* Foreign ministers from Asia's top two economies meet in
* Japan minister wants legally binding agreement to defuse
(Adds details from Japan)
BEIJING, July 4 China said on Monday it had
complained to Tokyo about Japanese fishing boats near disputed
islands in the East China Sea, while Japan urged talks on the
row and voiced concern about its neighbour's maritime
The latest flare-up in the sea row happened while Japanese
Foreign Minister Takeaki Matsumoto visited Beijing for talks
about the intense but often icy ties between Asia's top two
economies. (For more on ties, click )
It was a reminder that, despite gestures of goodwill between
Beijing and Tokyo, the East China Sea remains a source of
persistent tension over territorial claims and access to
potentially lucrative energy reserves.
"China has lodged solemn representations with the Japanese
side, and demands Japan immediately withdraws fishing boats from
the relevant seas," Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Hong Lei
said in a statement on the ministry's website (www.mfa.gov.cn).
"Any actions taken by Japan in the seas around the Diaoyu
Islands are illegal and invalid," he added.
China and Japan have bickered for years over the group of
uninhabited islets, known as Senkaku in Japan. They are also
claimed by Taiwan.
"The Diaoyu Islands and attached islets have been Chinese
territory since ancient times, and China has incontrovertible
sovereignty over them," Hong said, adding that he understood
that the fishing boats had left the area.
In September 2010, Japan held a Chinese trawler captain
after his boat collided with Japanese coast guard ships near the
isles. Beijing cancelled diplomatic meetings in protest at
Japan's detention of the captain until he was released.
The two countries are also at odds over China's exploration
for natural gas in the same seas. In 2008, they agreed to
resolve the feud by jointly developing gas fields, but progress
in the talks has been halting. Japan has accused China of
drilling for gas in violation of the deal.
China has also been embroiled in tensions with Vietnam and
the Philippines over disputed parts of the South China Sea.
LEGALLY BINDING AGREEMENT
In talks with Chinese Foreign Minister Yang Jiechi,
Matsumoto said the two sides should seek to make progress
towards a legally binding agreement to defuse the dispute, a
Japanese Foreign Ministry deputy press secretary, Hidenobu
Sobashima, told reporters in Beijing.
"I expressed a strong interest in recent activities by China
in the oceans," Sobashima, speaking in English, paraphrased
Matsumoto as saying earlier to Japanese reporters.
"I said that the two countries should promote cooperation in
terms of negotiations of (a) legally binding instrument for
resources exploration in the East China Sea."
Sobashima did not specify which of China's sea activities
concern Japan. But Tokyo has repeatedly voiced concern about
China's growing naval reach.
Nine fishing boats -- one owned by a senior
official of a Japanese nationalist group led by former air force
chief Toshio Tamogami and eight owned by fishermen from Japan's
southern Okinawa island - went fishing around the islands on
"We did it to show that is a Japanese territory and a
Japanese fishing ground," one member of the nationalist group
said. A total of about 20 people were on board, and all the
ships have returned to Okinawa, he added.
Sobashima said the latest boat dispute in the sea did not
come up specifically during the ministers' talks. Despite the
flare-up, he expressed some confidence that negotiations over
the East China Sea dispute could resume soon.
"The atmosphere is more promising," he said, noting the rise
in mutual goodwill after Japan's calamitous earthquake and
tsunami in March. "We are hoping for some progress."
Last week, China lambasted Japan after a confrontation
between a Taiwanese fishing boat and a Japanese coast guard
vessel near the islands.
China considers self-ruled and democratic Taiwan part of its
territory, and has in the past weighed in over disputes between
Taiwanese and Japanese ships around the islands.
Activists from China, Taiwan, Hong Kong and Japan
periodically try to visit the seas around the islands, or even
the islands themselves, to promote rival sovereignty claims.
(Reporting by Ben Blanchard and Chris Buckley; Additional
reporting by Kiyoshi Takenaka in Tokyo; Editing by Yoko