TOKYO Japanese Prime Minister Naoto Kan said good ties with China are vital but voiced concern about Beijing's military buildup and stepped-up regional maritime activities, as tensions linger between Asia's two top economies.
Tokyo and Beijing became embroiled in a bitter feud after Japan's Coast Guard detained a Chinese trawler skipper whose boat collided with two of its patrol ships last month near uninhabited islands in the East China Sea that both sides claim.
"I am concerned about China's lack of transparency in strengthening its defense capabilities and about how China's maritime activities from the Indian Ocean to the East China Sea have intensified," Kan said in a speech at the start of an extra session of parliament on Friday.
Following Japan's release of the Chinese boat captain last weekend, Beijing on Thursday released three Japanese citizens employed by construction firm Fujita Corp, whose detention had added to bilateral strains.
The three returned to Japan on Friday, but a fourth remained in custody. Tokyo is pressing for his quick release.
In the latest development, China issued a travel warning to tourists on Friday after a bus carrying Chinese visitors was temporarily blocked earlier this week by car-loads of Japanese right-wing protesters in southern Japan.
Tokyo has urged calm and China has said it does not want the on-going diplomatic spat with Japan to worsen ties further. But both sides have failed to suggest how and when the row could end.
China is in the process of replacing Japan as the world's No.2 economy and has been Japan's biggest trading partner since 2009. Lingering tensions have raised concerns that it could hurt business ties.
Industry sources had voiced concerns that Beijing was holding back shipments to Japan of rare earth minerals vital for electronics and auto parts, but Japan's trade minister said on Friday that some rare earth shipments to Japan had resumed.
Kan stressed the importance of Sino-Japanese ties and said both sides should act calmly and make efforts to deepen strategic, mutually beneficial relations.
"Japan and China are important neighbors located just across the sea from each other and our relations are very important not just for the Asia-Pacific region but also for the world."
But the premier, under fire domestically for seeming to cave into Beijing's demands to free the Chinese fishing boat captain, added: "I hope that China will play an appropriate role and behave as a responsible member of the international community."