Philippines, Japan to China: Respect law in sea row

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Japan searches for shipwrecked Chinese fishermen Tokyo (AFP) Aug 11, 2016 – Japan is searching for eight Chinese crew members who went missing when their fishing boat sank after colliding with a Greek cargo vessel near disputed East China Sea islands on Thursday, the Japanese coast guard said. The coast guard, which dispatched a patrol boat and plane to the site after receiving a signal from the cargo ship, has rescued the six other members of the sunk vessel’s 14-strong crew, a coast guard spokeswoman told AFP. “We ‘ve put priority on the search and rescue of the missing eight. We have not been able to determine the cause of the collision,” she said. China expressed its appreciation for the rescue efforts, the Japanese foreign ministry said in a statement. The accident comes after Foreign minister Fumio Kishida on Tuesday called in Cheng Yonghua, Beijing’s envoy to Tokyo, following what Tokyo calls “intrusions” by Chinese ships near the disputed islands for five consecutive days. “The situation surrounding the Japan-China relationship is markedly deteriorating,” he told Cheng, according to the ministry’s statement on its website. The two countries are locked in a long-running dispute over the uninhabited islets known as the Senkaku in Japan and the Diaoyu in China. The Japanese coast guard on Monday caught sight of 15 Chinese coast guard ships near the islands — the highest number ever spotted in the area. Some 230 Chinese fishing vessels and seven coast guard ships, including four apparently carrying weapons, sailed into waters close to the disputed island on Sunday. Bilateral relations had improved over the past two years, but tensions over the islands have been a frequent irritant between the countries.

Japan and the Philippines joined forces on Thursday to call on China to observe the rule of law in resolving maritime disputes after an international tribunal rejected Beijing’s claims to most of the South China Sea.

Japanese Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida met his counterpart Perfecto Yasay in the southern Philippine city of Davao where both pledged to work closely to boost maritime security while facing separate sea disputes with China.

“We have agreed that in the pursuit of the solution to the conflict in the maritime area, it is important to base ourselves on the rule of law and resort to peaceful means and not the use of force or coercion,” Kishida said, referring to the UN-backed tribunal’s finding published in July.

“We invoke and urge China to make sure that maritime security and the rule of law must completely and uncompromisingly be respected,” Yasay said in his statement.

Japan and China are locked in a long-running dispute over uninhabited islets in the East China Sea, while Manila and Beijing have overlapping claims in the South China Sea.

Kishida on Tuesday called in Cheng Yonghua, Beijing’s envoy to Tokyo, following what Japan calls “intrusions” by Chinese ships near the disputed islands for five consecutive days.

Tensions over the disputes have mounted since the tribunal’s decision, with China angrily rejecting it and announcing penalties for “illegal” fishing in its waters including the disputed areas.

“We have the same experience in the East China Sea and the South China Sea with respect to certain actions that use force, intimidation, provocation in order to assert one’s claim over a particular territory,” said Yasay.

Kishida said Japan, while not a claimant in the South China Sea, would continue to cooperate closely with “relevant countries” for the peaceful resolution of maritime rows.

He pledged continued Japanese aid for the Philippines to boost its maritime security capabilities.

Several patrol vessels earlier pledged by Tokyo to President Rodrigo Duterte’s predecessor Benigno Aquino are to begin arriving in Manila by month’s end, Kishida added.

With a severely under-equipped military, the Philippines has been seeking to strengthen ties with allies like Japan, the United States and Australia, which have called on China to comply with the ruling.

China has conducted massive reclamation in the South China Sea, with a US-based think tank releasing images this week showing what appears to be Beijing building military aircraft hangars on disputed reefs.

Vietnam, Malaysia, Brunei and Taiwan also have claims to the sea, through which over $5 trillion in annual trade passes.