Newly appointed Foreign Minister Seiji Maehara warned Beijing that Tokyo will respond if it begins drilling in an East China Sea gas field where both Japan and China have claimed exploration rights.

China recently transported “unknown” equipment to the natural gas field known to Japan as Shirakaba and in China as Chunxiao. China has informed Japan the machinery was for “repair work” and not for drilling.

During a news conference late Friday night, Maehara said the government was still trying to confirm the facts.

“If we were to find some sort of evidence (that China began drilling operations), I believe we will take appropriate measures,” Maehara said.

Maehara is a known hawk on China and has called the country “a realistic threat.”

But after his appointment as foreign minister, Maehara chose his words carefully Friday and expressed “concern” over China’s double-digit increase of its defense budget for 21 years in a row till 2009.

“I am concerned as to why China is increasing its military budget,” Maehara said. “China needs to eradicate the concern held by other foreign countries and establish a win-win relationship with them through accountability.”

Japan-China relations have become strained over the recent arrest of a Chinese ship captain following the Sept. 7 incident in which his trawler collided with Japan Coast Guard vessels near the disputed Senkaku Islands.

Meanwhile, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Jiang Yu said Friday that Beijing has “full sovereign rights and jurisdiction” over the gas field, and activities being carried out there are completely “reasonable and legitimate,” according to a statement posted on the ministry’s website.

Information from Kyodo added

Protest in Beijing

BEIJING (Kyodo) Several dozen Chinese activists and other people staged a protest Saturday in front of the Japanese Embassy in Beijing over Japan’s control of the disputed Senkaku Islands in the East China Sea.

Holding placards reading “Wake up the Chinese people,” “Never forget 9.18,” and “Get the Japanese out of the Diaoyu Islands,” the protesters demanded that Japan release the captain of a Chinese fishing boat that collided with two Japanese patrol boats Sept. 7 off the islands, which are administered by Japan but claimed by both China and Taiwan.

“Overthrow small Japan,” some protesters shouted in unison, using a derogatory term for the country. “Japanese, get out (of the islands),” was another slogan chanted by the protesters.

Saturday marked the 79th anniversary of the Japanese bombing of a railroad track near Shenyang, the start of the so-called Manchurian Incident that led to Japan’s invasion of northeastern China.

There were no injuries and no property was damaged in the demonstration, which began soon after 9 a.m. and lasted about half an hour before police ushered the protesters away. Protest leader Zhou Xu, an activist from Anhui Province, said, “Japan, get out of (the islands). Return the captain.”