BEIJING (Reuters) - Beijing reacted sharply on Monday to criticism by Japan of new fishing restrictions imposed by China in the South China Sea, expressing “resolute dissatisfaction” with a Japanese official’s comments at the weekend, and noting Japan has no direct stake in the issue.
“The person who made these remarks, if he’s not ignorant, then he has ulterior motives,” Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying told a regular briefing. “I’d like to recommend that this Japanese official, before making remarks, should first do some basic research and understand fully China’s laws and regulations.”
On Sunday, Japan’s Defence Minister Itsunori Onodera said the fishing rules, approved by China’s southern Hainan province and which came into effect on January 1, had left the international community jittery, coming so soon after China unilaterally launched an air defence identification zone late last year.
The new rules require foreign fishing vessels to obtain approval to enter disputed waters in the South China Sea, which the local government says are under its jurisdiction.
Hua said the fishing curbs are purely technical amendments to a 30-year-old fisheries law.
Beijing claims almost the entire oil- and gas-rich South China Sea and rejects rival claims to parts of it from the Philippines, Taiwan, Malaysia, Brunei and Vietnam.
The United States last week called the fishing rules “provocative and potentially dangerous”, prompting an earlier rebuttal from China’s foreign ministry.
Ties between China and Japan, the world’s second- and third-largest economies, have been strained due to a long-running row over ownership of a group of tiny, uninhabited islands called the Senkaku in Japan and Diaoyu in China.
Tensions were ratcheted up in recent months after Beijing announced the air defence identification zone covering a large swathe of the East China Sea, including the disputed isles, and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe visited a controversial Tokyo shrine seen by critics as a symbol of Japan’s wartime aggression.
Stoking tensions further, three Chinese government ships on Sunday briefly entered what Japan sees as its territorial waters near the disputed islands, controlled by Japan but also claimed by China, the latest in such occasional entries by Chinese ships.
Patrol ships from China and Japan have been shadowing each other near the islets on and off for months, raising fears that a confrontation could develop into a clash.
Reporting by Sui-Lee Wee, Editing by Ian Geoghegan