• JIJI, REUTERS, KYODO

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Defense Minister Taro Kono told China’s ambassador to Japan, Kong Xuanyou, his country should refrain from military activities around disputed East China Sea islands that are controlled by Tokyo but claimed by Beijing.

The Defense Ministry did not disclose the Chinese ambassador’s response to the demand. The meeting took place at the ministry office at the request of the Chinese side.

Kono expressed strong concern over China’s actions near the Japanese-controlled Senkaku Islands, known as the Diaoyu in China, and in the contested South China Sea during a 40-minute meeting at the Defense Ministry on Tuesday. The meeting came after Japan last month accused Chinese government ships of repeated intrusions into its territorial waters around the islands.

Earlier this month, Kono put Beijing on notice, saying that the Self-Defense Forces will respond if Chinese government vessels continue to intensify their activities around the Senkakus.

“The SDF will act firmly when necessary while joining hands with the Japan Coast Guard,” he said at an Aug. 4 news conference.

China said last month the islets were Chinese territory and it had the right to conduct law enforcement activities in the area.

Concern is growing in Japan that the end of a China-established suspension of fishing in areas of the East China Sea near the islands on Sunday will bring an inordinate number of government and fishing vessels into or near the area.

But local Chinese authorities facing the East China Sea have reportedly instructed fishermen not to approach the Senkakus, part of an apparent push to ease tensions with Japan.

On Monday, more than 60 lawmakers from the Liberal Democratic Party established a study group aimed at bolstering Japan’s control of the Senkakus and surrounding waters in the East China Sea.

At the group’s first meeting, Tomomi Inada, the LDP’s acting secretary-general and a former defense minister who leads the group, said China’s escalating assertiveness is threatening Japan’s administration of the islands.

She called for legislation that would oblige the government to resume conducting research missions on the islands’ ecosystem and marine resources after a decadeslong hiatus.

The last large-scale survey led by the Japanese government was undertaken in 1979.

A former government official who led the 1979 survey of the islands said in the meeting that building a heliport or a lighthouse as an initial step to enhance Japan’s effective control is technically possible.

But setting up a harbor or a refuge for fishermen as requested by residents of nearby islands would be difficult, as there are no suitable areas on the islands, the official said.

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