• Kyodo

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Tokyo said it conveyed "strong concerns" to Beijing over China's new controversial legislation, which allows its coast guard to use military force in waters the country claims, during a video meeting on maritime issues Wednesday.

Beijing claims that the Senkaku Islands in the East China Sea, which are administered by Tokyo, are part of its territory. The new law could be used to target Japanese vessels navigating around the uninhabited islets that China calls Diaoyu.

China must not use the legislation, which went into force Monday, in a way that goes against international law, Chief Cabinet Secretary Katsunobu Kato said at a news conference.

In the high-level consultation on maritime affairs involving senior bureaucrats from the two countries, Japan "firmly urged" China to exercise restraint in its actions, said Kato, the government's top spokesman.

The law permits the China Coast Guard to use weapons when foreign ships involved in illegal activities in waters claimed by the country fail to obey orders. The new legislation also allows it to demolish buildings constructed in those areas by foreign organizations or individuals.

The legislation, passed on Jan. 22 by the Standing Committee of China's National Parliament, has become a headache for Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga, foreign affairs experts have said.

Several issues, such as trade and the situations in Hong Kong, Taiwan and the South China Sea, have become causes of consternation for Japan-China ties,

Late last month, Suga and new U.S. President Joe Biden confirmed during a phone call that Article 5 of the Japan-U.S. security treaty covers the Senkakus, meaning that the United States would defend Japan in the event of a conflict there.

Beijing immediately lambasted the declaration by the two leaders, arguing the islets are "China's inherent territory."

In the early 2010s, China and Japan were mired in a territorial row over the Senkakus, but their relations have improved in recent years after the two sides effectively shelved the territorial spat.

Beijing, meanwhile, has rapidly built up artificial islands with military infrastructure in the South China Sea, claiming sovereignty over almost the entire maritime region.

China has conflicting territorial claims with four of the 10 members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations — Brunei, Malaysia, the Philippines and Vietnam — as well as Taiwan in the South China Sea.

U.S. warships have carried out freedom of navigation operations there in an apparent bid to challenge Chinese claims and actions in the area, a strategic waterway through which more than one-third of global trade passes.

Defense Minister Nobuo Kishi said Tuesday that Tokyo will consider deepening cooperation over maritime security issues with other countries such as the Philippines and Vietnam.

The high-level consultation on maritime affairs was previously held in May 2019 in Otaru, Hokkaido. It was scheduled to take place in February last year in the Chinese port city of Ningbo, but was called off because of the novel coronavirus outbreak.

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