, TOKYO, Nov 8 – Japan called on China Thursday to use its sea power peacefully, after President Hu Jintao staked a claim in Beijing for his country to become a maritime force.
Tokyo said its neighbour must act as a “responsible member of the international community”, a challenge it has made to Beijing repeatedly in recent months as tempers have flared over a disputed island chain.
“It is not surprising to hear leaders in (China) speak about their intention to engage in maritime activities,” Naoko Saiki, deputy press secretary at the foreign ministry, told reporters in Tokyo.
“But those activities must be carried out in a peaceful manner based on international law.”
The comments come hours after Hu told the five-yearly Communist Party congress that Beijing should “resolutely safeguard China’s maritime rights and interests, and build China into a maritime power”.
Saiki said both countries — the two largest economies in Asia with a trade relationship worth well over $300 billion a year — had a duty to preserve the region’s stability and prosperity.
“I think China must be a responsible member of the international community,” she said.
Beijing and Tokyo are at loggerheads over the sovereignty of an uninhabited archipelago in the East China Sea.
Chinese government ships have loitered around the Tokyo-administered Senkaku islands, which Beijing calls the Diaoyus, for weeks, sending diplomatic temperatures soaring and leading to calls from Washington for cool heads.
The islands lie in rich fishing grounds and their possession theoretically grants access to a potential energy reserve in the seabed.
But they also have strategic significance, with some observers suggesting they could provide a beachhead for Chinese projections of military might.
Japan has watched warily over the last decade as China’s military prestige has grown. But commentators say Tokyo’s own formidable armed forces are not to be underestimated despite the nation’s officially pacifist stance.
A defence ministry spokesman said the ministry “has great interest in China’s maritime activities” and pledged “utmost efforts in maintaining safety in our territorial air and waters”.
“The issue of use of the sea in a stable manner is directly linked to the peace and stability of the Asia-Pacific region,” the spokesman said.
“It is important to act on the principle of freedom of navigation, compliance with international laws and peaceful resolution of conflicts.”