The uninhabited Senkaku island chain in the East China Sea are administered by Japan but claimed by China and Taiwan.

The uninhabited Senkaku island chain in the East China Sea are administered by Japan but claimed by China and Taiwan. (Cabinet Secretariat of Japan)

The defense ministers of China and Japan during a video call on Monday reaffirmed their competing sovereignty claims over a chain of uninhabited islands in the East China Sea, according to statements by the ministers’ offices.

The islands – known as the Senkakus in Japan and the Diaoyu Dao in China – have a surface area of about 2 ½ square miles and are also claimed by Taiwan. The area surrounding the islands is said to contain a wealth of natural resources, including fish, oil and natural gas.

During the Monday video conference, Japan Minister of Defense Nobuo Kishi expressed “strong concerns about the attempts to unilaterally change the status quo by coercion,” according to the Japanese ministry’s statement.

Kishi was referring to an increasing number of Chinese vessels sailing near the Senkakus.

China on Nov. 3 broke a record for the number of days per year that vessels from the country are spotted near the disputed islands, spending 284 days there this year – two more than the record 282 set in 2019, according to the Japan Coast Guard.

During the call, Kishi also “firmly delivered Japan’s position over the Senkaku Islands” and “strongly urged [China] to refrain from action that could escalate tensions,” according to the statement.

The Senkakus, northeast of Taiwan, are part of the “first island chain,” an area that stretches into the South China Sea and that China aims to dominate.

The U.S. recognizes Japan’s administration of the islands and the Trump and Obama administrations have said an attack on the Senkakus would invoke the U.S.-Japan Treaty of Mutual Cooperation and Security, meaning the U.S. military would be obligated to respond.

Chinese State Councilor and Defense Minister Gen. Wei Fenghe during the call did not waver on Beijing’s position, adding that “China is firmly determined to safeguard its territorial sovereignty and maritime rights and interests,” according to the Chinese statement.

“Both sides should focus on the overall and long-term situation, strengthen consultations and properly handle differences, so as to truly make the East China Sea a sea of peace, cooperation and friendship,” the statement said.

It was the first time the two defense leaders have met since Kishi’s appointment in September, according to both statements. Wei and Kishi also discussed increasing transparency and coordination, pledging to create a hotline between the ministries for better communication.

“It is necessary to maintain high-level exchanges, promote practical cooperation, strengthen multilateral coordination, accelerate the construction of air-sea liaison mechanism and actively build constructive bilateral security relations,” the Chinese ministry said in the statement.

The ministers also agreed to “continue communications between defense authorities considering the great importance of stable Japan-China relationship for peace, stability and prosperity in the region and also in the international community,” according to the Japanese statement. Twitter: @CaitlinDoornbos

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Caitlin Doornbos covers the Pentagon for Stars and Stripes after covering the Navy’s 7th Fleet as Stripes’ Indo-Pacific correspondent at Yokosuka Naval Base, Japan. Previously, she worked as a crime reporter in Lawrence, Kan., and Orlando, Fla., where she was part of the Orlando Sentinel team that placed as finalist for the 2017 Pulitzer Prize for breaking news. Caitlin has a Bachelor of Science in journalism from the University of Kansas and master’s degree in defense and strategic studies from the University of Texas at El Paso.

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