Japanese boats leave a port in Okinawa on Sunday to fish in waters near the Diaoyu Islands in the East China Sea. Photo: ch-sakura.jp
Beijing lodged a stern remonstration with Tokyo on Monday over Japanese fishing activities near the Diaoyu Islands in the East China Sea, shortly after the two sides vowed to improve ties and maintain regional stability.
"China has indisputable sovereignty over the Diaoyu Islands that have been an inherent part of China since ancient times," Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokesman Hong Lei said, responding to reports that some Japanese boats had fished in the waters off the Diaoyu Islands on Sunday.
"Any actions taken by Japan in the area were invalid. We have learned that those Japanese fishing boats have left that area," Hong said.
According to Reuters, nine fishing boats, including one owned by a senior official of a Japanese nationalist group, were fishing in the islands on Sunday.
"We did it to show that this is Japanese territory and a Japanese fishing ground," Reuters quoted one member of the nationalist group as saying.
This marks the second complaint that Beijing has made in the past week over Japanese maritime activities near the Diaoyu Islands.
On Wednesday, Hong slammed the action of Japanese patrol ships having driven off a fishing boat from Taiwan near the islands as "illegal."
Huang Dahui, a professor of Japanese politics at the Renmin University of China, told the Global Times that Japan's right-wing groups have reacted as usual to distance China and Japan just as relations get better.
"Ties have been improving after the earthquake in March, but the recovery may be harmed by such right-wing activities," Huang said.
"These nationalists sought to impose pressure on the Japanese government as Foreign Minister Takeaki Matsumoto visited China."
Matsumoto held separate talks with his Chinese counterpart, Yang Jiechi, Vice President Xi Jinping and State Councilor Dai Bingguo on Monday.
Yang and Matsumoto achieved consensus on continuing high-level contacts and China's assistance to Japan after the earthquake, Hidenobu Sobashima, a deputy press secretary of Japan's Foreign Ministry, said after the talks.
The two sides also discussed North Korea's nuclear program and China's restrictions on the imports of Japanese food after the Fukushima nuclear crisis.
Later, Xi told Matsumoto that the development of bilateral relations conforms with the fundamental interests of the two peoples.
"I believe that the Japanese people, through their unremitting efforts, can overcome difficulties, rebuild their homes and achieve new economic and social progress," Xi said.
However, Sobashima told reporters that Matsumoto had asserted a rival sovereignty claim over the Diaoyu Islands, indicating that the two sides remain far apart on the issue.
Matsumoto also demanded stronger bilateral cooperation by negotiating a "legally binding agreement over resources exploration in the East China Sea."
According to the Xinhua News Agency, under the China-Japan principled consensus on the East China Sea issue, Chinese enterprises welcome the participation of Japanese legal personnel in the development of the Chunxiao oil and gas field, over which Beijing has indisputable sovereignty.
Huang noted that a legally binding agreement could help provide immediate resolution for future disputes in the East China Sea. However, the process to negotiate such a deal would be lengthy given remaining differences.
Japan's Jiji Press commented on Monday that Tokyo wanted to use Matsumoto's visit to mend ties and strengthen strategic cooperation with Beijing.
"However, the visit did not meet its targets, as the two sides made no breakthrough in key issues such as the exploration of natural resources," Jiji said.
Despite the differences, Sobashima said that the atmosphere was promising in terms of possible progress, noting the rise in mutual goodwill after the March earthquake.
Meanwhile, a delegation of senior Chinese legislators left Beijing on Monday for a visit to Japan at the invitation of Yokomichi Takahiro, speaker of the House of Representatives of the Japanese Diet.
Led by Li Jianguo, vice chairman and general secretary of the Standing Committee of the National People's Congress (NPC), the delegation will attend the sixth meeting of a cooperation committee between the NPC and the Japanese House of Representatives.
According to China Customs statistics, in the first 4 months of 2011, China's trade volume with Japan totaled $108.87 billion, up 22.9 percent year-on-year.
Citing Kwan Chi Hung, a senior fellow at the Nomura Institute of Capital Markets Research, the Japan Times reported on Monday that after suffering major supply chain damage after the March disasters, Japanese manufacturers will increasingly move to diversify their parts-supply networks overseas in the coming years, with China inevitably becoming their No. 1 choice.
Wang Zhaokun and Zhu Shanshan contributed to this story