Japan says staff on disputed islets is an option

TOKYO (AP) — Japan’s top spokesman said Tuesday that stationing government officials on disputed East China Sea islands remains an option to back Tokyo’s claims to the islands.

Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga said the permanent placing of government employees on the islands, controlled by Japan but also claimed by China, was a strategic option.

“We consider it an option, and plan to study a possibility based on a strategic point of view.” he told a news conference. “There is no room for compromise over our sovereignty (over the islands).”

Stationing public servants on the islands was a campaign promise made by Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s hawkish ruling party, which is also pushing to give Japan’s military a more assertive role in international peacekeeping and to step up its territorial defenses.

In Beijing, China’s Foreign Ministry warned that such a move would not be tolerated. “If they do provoke, they must be prepared to take the consequences,” ministry spokesman Hong Lei said.

Japan also called in China’s ambassador to Japan on Tuesday to lodge protest after eight Chinese coast guard vessels intruded into waters near the islands, called Senkaku in Japan and Diaoyu in China.

The intrusions appear to be part of recent escalation of China’s military and maritime activity ahead of the anniversary of Japan’s nationalizing of the islands, about 2,000 kilometers (1,240 miles) southwest of Tokyo.

Defense Minister Itsunori Onodera vowed to step up caution levels and surveillance in the area as the anniversary is marked Wednesday.

Japan purchased three main islands in the Senkaku group from a private owner last year, an action that escalated tensions between the countries, triggering violent anti-Japan protests in China and harming diplomatic and business ties.

On Monday, the Japanese Defense Ministry scrambled jets after an unmanned aircraft believed to be Chinese flew near the islands. There were no airspace violations.

The coast guard official said there have been more than 200 intrusions by vessels into Japanese waters near the islands in the past year.

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