Japan, US to discuss Chinese naval activity
Fri, Oct 08, 2010

TOKYO - Japanese Defence Minister Toshimi Kitazawa said Friday he would meet with his US counterpart Robert Gates next week to discuss how to deal with China's increasing naval activities in the East China Sea.

Kitazawa will meet Gates in Hanoi at the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) meeting early next week.

Chinese naval activity in the area has heightened the "possibility that accidental emergencies will occur," Kitazawa told reporters.

"I think it's important that we share a common recognition about how to deal with such events," he said, referring to the planned meeting on Monday.

Japan and China have been locked in a bitter month-long diplomatic row, triggered by the arrest of a Chinese fishing boat captain whose vessel collided with two Japanese coastguard ships in disputed waters in the East China Sea.

Last month Japan voiced concern over China's growing military muscle in a defence paper, pointing to increased Chinese naval activities near its shores, including tense incidents this year in which Chinese helicopters buzzed Japanese warships.

Prime Minister Naoto Kan last week urged China to act as a "responsible member of the international community" and voiced concern about Beijing's defence spending and maritime activities.

Kitazawa said he also hoped to meet with his Chinese counterpart Liang Guanglie on the fringes of the ASEAN meeting in Hanoi, but that a meeting had not yet been arranged.

"Between Japan and China, I would like to propose establishing a mechanism to resolve accidental incidents," he said.

Japan arrested a Chinese trawler near disputed East China Sea islands on September 8 and then kept its captain in detention before releasing him.

China reacted strongly, freezing high-level talks and cancelling civil exchange programmes, including a Japanese pop group's concerts in Shanghai and Chinese tourist packages to Japan.

Chinese authorities also detained four Japanese construction workers for allegedly filming sensitive military installations, before releasing three of them. One is still being detained. Both sides have said the issue is unrelated.

Tokyo also says that Beijing blocked exports to Japan of rare earth minerals crucial for producing high-tech products, a claim denied repeatedly by Beijing.

However the two sides have shown signs of bridge-building, as Prime Minister Kan and Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao met briefly and agreed to improve ties on the sidelines of an Asia-Europe summit in Brussels.

Kitazawa will also hold bilateral meetings with defence ministers of Australia, Indonesia, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam, he said.

"What's important is that we exchange opinions over the security environment in the whole East China Sea, which is getting severe and volatile," he said.

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