Island row: China flexes muscles ahead of leadership change

Flexing muscles ahead of next week's once in a decade leadership change, China today said it has "expelled" Japanese Coast Guard vessels from the waters of disputed islands and asserted that "situation has changed" and Japan can not retain control over the area any longer.

Asked about reports of Chinese Maritime Surveillance Vessels, patrolling the waters of the uninhabited islands called Diaoyu by China and Senkakus by Japan, expelling Japanese vessels, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman, Hong Lei said today Beijing's stand is well justified.

"China's maritime surveillance ships conducted patrol and law enforcement operations in the territorial waters of the Diaoyu Islands. This is a normal act of duty and is completely justified", Hong told a media briefing here today.

Earlier state-run Xinhua news agency reported that the China's marine surveillance fleet has "expelled a number of Japanese vessels illegally sailing in waters around the Diaoyu Islands on Tuesday morning".

Quoting a State Oceanic Administration, the report said “a fleet comprising of four China Marine Surveillance ships encountered the Japanese vessels at around 10 am while on a routine patrol.

"They conducted surveillance over the Japanese vessels and took photos as evidence", it said adding that the fleet also radioed the Japanese vessels reiterating China's sovereignty over the Diaoyu Islands and the waters around them.

Reports from Tokyo said ships from both sides flashed sings suggesting that they were in their own territorial waters, demanding the other side to leave.

The Chinese ships were in the waters there for the 11th day. The Chinese action marks a new posture after the conflict escalated during that past two months, which analysts here say is hardening of the stand by China as it poised for a once in a generation change leadership expected to take place during the November 8 congress of Communist Party.

China's stand on the islands changed after Japanese government bought the islands from a private party in September which Beijing said amounted to nationalising them.

Beijing was expected to continue the hard-line posturing as the islands dispute has become a rallying point across the country, relegating the public concerns over growing wealth gap and concerns over declining economic growth easing pressures on the process of leadership change.

Also, Hong yesterday struck a "new line" on the islands issue saying that the situation with regard to the islands has "changed" meaning that Tokyo has no longer has the administrative control on the islands after Chinese ships started entering their waters.

Though China maintained claims over the islands, its ships and fishermen refrained from entering their waters to avoid conflict with Japanese coast guard vessels which was largely attributed to an unwritten understanding reached between the two countries in 1970s to leave the solution to future generation.

Asserting that situation no longer existed, Hong said it is "self-deceiving" for Japan to think that there is no dispute.

"The situation is not what it once was following Japan's illegal purchase of the islands, which has destroyed an important consensus reached by the older generation of leaders regarding the islands," Hong said.

"Japan should not have any illusions in this regard any more," Hong said, calling on Japan to admit the dispute and solve it through negotiation.

"We hope the Japanese side will demonstrate sincerity and make due efforts to solve the current dispute," he said.

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