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About 150 Japanese lawmakers have visited the controversial Yasukuni Shrine, in a move likely to further sour ties with China and South Korea.

Yasukuni shrine commemorates Japan’s war dead, including convicted war criminals from World War Two.

The visit, marking a spring festival, comes a day before President Barack Obama arrives in Tokyo.

It also comes amid strained relations between Japan and its neighbors over geopolitical and historical tensions.

Japan’s PM Shinzo Abe was not among those who visited the shrine, but he sent a traditional offering on Monday.

The Chinese foreign ministry denounced Shinzo Abe’s offering as a “negative asset for Japan”, saying that both it and visits by Japanese cabinet ministers reflected “the erroneous attitude towards history adopted by Japan’s incumbent cabinet”.

About 150 Japanese lawmakers have visited the controversial Yasukuni Shrine

About 150 Japanese lawmakers have visited the controversial Yasukuni Shrine (photo Reuters)

South Korea’s foreign ministry said that Shinzo Abe had “romanticized Japanese colonialism and its war of aggression” by paying tribute to the shrine.

Japanese officials visit the shrine during seasonal festivals and on the anniversary of Japan’s surrender in World War II.

Japanese lawmaker Hidehisa Otsuji told the Associated Press news agency that he visited the shrine “with a calm mind” and that there was “no further meaning” to the visit.

“I have been visiting here for decades,” he said.

Internal Affairs and Communications Minister Yoshitaka Shindo, meanwhile, said: “As this visit was my own personal visit, I don’t believe that it will have any effect on the US president’s visit.”

China and South Korea view the shrine as a symbol of Japan’s wartime aggression and have accused Tokyo of failing to show the necessary remorse for wartime atrocities.

When Shinzo Abe visited the shrine on December 26, 2013, the US embassy in Tokyo expressed disappointment and said Abe’s actions would “exacerbate tensions” with neighbors.

Washington has also been trying to get Japan and South Korea to set aside their differences and work more closely together, both on North Korea and in terms of counter-balancing China’s growing power in the region.

Ties between China and Japan meanwhile, remain severely strained, over historical tensions and a territorial dispute in the East China Sea.

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Japan’s PM Shinzo Abe has visited Amsterdam’s Anne Frank House museum, weeks after 300 copies of her famous diary were vandalized in Tokyo.

Shinzo Abe said he made the visit “to encourage peace in the entire international community”.

A suspect is in custody for vandalizing the books, but his motive is not known.

Shinzo Abe was lambasted by Seoul and Beijing last December for visiting a Tokyo shrine to dead Japanese soldiers, including convicted WW2 criminals.

Japan’s PM Shinzo Abe has visited Amsterdam's Anne Frank House museum, weeks after 300 copies of her famous diary were vandalized in Tokyo

Japan’s PM Shinzo Abe has visited Amsterdam’s Anne Frank House museum, weeks after 300 copies of her famous diary were vandalized in Tokyo

Anne Frank’s diary was written during World War Two, while the teenager hid from the Nazis in occupied Amsterdam.

The book made her a symbol of the suffering of Jews during the war.

Shinzo Abe’s grandfather, Nobusuke Kishi, was minister of industry for much of the war.

Nobusuke Kishi was arrested after Japan’s surrender but was never charged and went on to serve as prime minister.

Speaking at the Amsterdam museum, Shinzo Abe noted the “deep connection” between Japan and the Anne Frank diary, and the fact that many Japanese visit the museum.

“Looking ahead to the many years of the 21st Century I would like to ensure that we will never see the same things happening, and I share the responsibility of realizing this goal,” he said.

Shinzo Abe is in the Netherlands for a Nuclear Security Summit and a G7 meeting on the crisis in Ukraine.

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According to Japan’s health ministry estimates, the country’s population declined by a record 244,000 people in 2013.

The ministry said an estimated 1,031,000 babies were born last year – down some 6,000 from the previous year.

Meanwhile, the number of people that died last year was 1,275,000 – a rise of around 19,000 from 2012.

Japan’s population has been shrinking for several years now. If current trends persist it will lose a third of its population in the next 50 years.

Japan's population declined by a record 244,000 people in 2013

Japan’s population declined by a record 244,000 people in 2013

A quarter of Japan’s population is currently aged over 65 and that figure is expected to reach nearly 40% by 2060.

The government says the population totaled 126,393,679 as of March 31st 2013 – down 0.2% from a year earlier.

Japan has taken aggressive measures in recent months to spur growth in the world’s third-biggest economy, after years of stagnation.

Shinzo Abe’s government is trying to boost the economy through a combination of quantitative easing and cash injections, higher taxes, higher government spending and longer-term structural reforms.

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China and South Korea got angry after PM Shinzo Abe visited Yasukuni shrine that honors Japan’s war dead, including some convicted war criminals.

Shinzo Abe said his visit to Yasukuni was an anti-war gesture.

But China called the visit “absolutely unacceptable to the Chinese people”, and Seoul expressed “regret and anger”.

China and South Korea see Yasukuni as a symbol of Tokyo’s aggression during World War Two, when Japan occupied large parts of China and the Korean peninsula.

The US embassy in Tokyo said in a statement it was “disappointed” and that Shinzo Abe’s actions would “exacerbate tensions” with Japan’s neighbors.

China, Japan and South Korea are embroiled in a number of disputes over territory in the East China Sea.

It was the first visit to Yasukuni by a serving prime minister since Junichiro Koizumi went in 2006.

Shinzo Abe, who took office in 2012, entered the shrine on Thursday morning, wearing a morning suit and grey tie. His arrival was televised live.

PM Shinzo Abe visited Yasukuni shrine that honors Japan's war dead, including some convicted war criminals

PM Shinzo Abe visited Yasukuni shrine that honors Japan’s war dead, including some convicted war criminals

“I chose this day to report [to the souls of the dead] what we have done in the year since the administration launched and to pledge and determine that never again will people suffer in war,” he said.

“It is not my intention at all to hurt the feelings of the Chinese and Korean people.”

Officials said Shinzo Abe visited Yasukuni shrine in a private capacity and was not representing the government.

But Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Qin Gang said: “We strongly protest and seriously condemn the Japanese leader’s acts.

“This poses a major political obstacle in the improvement of bilateral relations. Japan must take responsibility for all the consequences that this creates.”

Japan made an unwritten agreement with China in the 1970s that serving leaders would not visit the shrine.

But now, Shinzo Abe appears to have broken that deal.

In August, Shinzo Abe sent a ritual offering to the shrine but was not among a group of dozens of Japanese politicians who visited Yasukuni.

During an earlier period in office between 2006 and 2007 he said he would not even discuss visiting the shrine “as long as the issue remains a diplomatic problem”.

Yasukuni commemorates some 2.5 million Japanese men, women and children who have died in wars.

But the souls of hundreds of convicted WW2 criminals are also enshrined there.

Fourteen so-called Class A criminals – those who were involved in planning the war – are among those honored. They include war-time leader General Hideki Tojo, who was executed for war crimes in 1948.

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China is accusing Japan of using its national security as a pretext for military expansion.

China’s Defense Ministry spokesman Geng Yansheng said in a statement that the move would increase regional tensions, state news agency Xinhua reported.

Earlier this week, Japan said it would buy advanced equipment including drones and amphibious vehicles.

It comes as Tokyo is embroiled in a bitter row with Beijing over islands in the East China Sea that both claim.

“China is firmly opposed to Japan’s relevant actions,” said Geng Yansheng.

China is accusing Japan of using its national security as a pretext for military expansion

China is accusing Japan of using its national security as a pretext for military expansion

The statement said Japan’s security policy caused “great concerns” among neighboring countries.

The announcement of more Japanese military spending came weeks after China established an air defense identification zone over a swathe of the East China Sea, including islands controlled by Japan.

Japan’s PM Shinzo Abe says he wants his country to broaden the scope of activities performed by the military – something currently tightly controlled by the post-war constitution.

Over the five years, Japan plans to buy anti-missile destroyers, submarines, 52 amphibious vehicles, surveillance drones, US fighter planes and 17 Boeing Osprey aircraft, capable of vertical take-off.

According to the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute, Japan ranks fifth in the world for military spending while China is in second place behind the US.

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Vice-President Joe Biden said at the beginning of a tour of East Asia that the US remains “deeply concerned” about China’s new air defense identification zone (ADIZ).

In written responses to Japan’s Asahi newspaper, Joe Biden said China and Japan had to establish measures to lower tensions.

Joe Biden arrived in Tokyo late on Monday and will then head to Beijing and Seoul during his six-day visit.

The air zone row is likely to dominate the week of talks.

Joe Biden’s most important task this week will be persuading Beijing and Tokyo to stop baiting each other, and to start talking about how to avoid an unintended clash.

Both the US and Japan have voiced strong criticism of China’s establishment of an ADIZ that includes islands claimed and controlled by Japan. It also includes a submerged rock claimed by South Korea.

China says aircraft operating within its ADIZ must follow certain rules such as filing flight plans, or face “defensive emergency measures”.

US, Japanese and South Korean military aircraft have all defied these rules and Japanese commercial carriers have agreed to a government request not to comply.

On Friday, China scrambled fighter jets to monitor US and Japanese planes flying in the area.

Joe Biden told the newspaper that the establishment of the ADIZ underscored “the need for agreement between China and Japan to establish crisis management and confidence building measures to lower tensions”.

Joe Biden arrived in Tokyo late on Monday and will then head to Beijing and Seoul during his six-day visit

Joe Biden arrived in Tokyo late on Monday and will then head to Beijing and Seoul during his six-day visit

As well as “the strength of our alliance commitments” with Japan, he planned to “emphasize the importance of avoiding actions that could undermine peace, security and prosperity in the region”, he said.

Joe Biden was met at the airport late on Monday by the new US envoy to Japan, Caroline Kennedy. Later on Tuesday, he meets Japanese PM Shinzo Abe.

Shinzo Abe said on Sunday that he expected to discuss the ADIZ issue with Joe Biden.

Tokyo has told its national carriers JAL and ANA not to file flight plans with the Chinese side when transiting the zone, but on Friday the US said it expected its carriers to “operate consistent with Notams (Notices to Airmen) issued by foreign countries”.

This did not indicate “US government acceptance of China’s requirements for operating in the newly-declared ADIZ”, the state department said.

Shinzo Abe said on Sunday he expected to have “in-depth” talks with Joe Biden about the ADIZ row.

Japan, he said, would “resolutely but calmly deal with Beijing’s attempt to change the status quo” in the region.

Tensions between Japan and China have been high for months because of a territorial row over islands in the East China Sea.

Japan controls the islands, which are called Senkaku in Japan and Diaoyu in China. They are also claimed by Taiwan and lie in a strategically important area south of Japan and north of Taiwan.

The US has described China’s move as destabilizing.

After Tokyo, VP Joe Biden heads to Beijing for talks with President Xi Jinping and then travels on to South Korea.

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Japan’s PM Shinzo Abe has described China’s move to create a new “air defense identification zone” over disputed waters as “dangerous”.

China’s action had “no validity whatsoever on Japan”, Shinzo Abe added.

China has voiced anger at Japanese and US objections to the new air zone, and lodged complaints with their embassies.

The zone covers disputed islands that are claimed and controlled by Japan. China says aircraft entering the zone must obey its rules.

Shinzo Abe told parliament on Monday that the zone “can invite an unexpected occurrence and it is a very dangerous thing as well”.

“We demand China revoke any measures that could infringe upon the freedom of flight in international airspace,” he added.

US Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel has called the move a “destabilizing attempt to alter the status quo in the region”.

“This unilateral action increases the risk of misunderstanding and miscalculations,” Chuck Hagel said in a statement.

“This announcement by the People’s Republic of China will not in any way change how the United States conducts military operations in the region,” he added.

Japan described China’s move as an “escalation” on Saturday, after China announced the new zone.

On Sunday, Yang Yujun, a spokesman for China’s Ministry of National Defense, said Japan’s reaction was “absolutely groundless and unacceptable”.

The disputed islands in the East China Sea have been a source of tension between China and Japan for decades

The disputed islands in the East China Sea have been a source of tension between China and Japan for decades

“We strongly require the Japanese side to stop all moves that undermine China’s territorial sovereignty as well as irresponsible remarks that misguide international opinions and create regional tensions,” Yang Yujun said.

He also demanded that the US “earnestly respect China’s national security [and] stop making irresponsible remarks for China’s setup of the East China Sea Air Defense Identification Zone”.

Meanwhile, South Korea said it found it “regretful” that China’s new zone partly overlapped with its own military air zone, and covered Ieodo, a submerged rock claimed by Seoul.

“I’d like to say once again that we have unchanging territorial control over Ieodo,” Kim Min-seok, a South Korean defense ministry spokesman, said on Monday.

Taiwan also claims the Japan-controlled disputed islands known as Senkaku in Japan and Diaoyu in China. Taiwan said that it would “defend its sovereignty over the archipelago.”

China said the air defense zone came into effect from 10:00 local time on Saturday.

Aircraft in the zone must report a flight plan, “maintain two-way radio communications” and “respond in a timely and accurate manner” to identification inquiries, China’s Defense Ministry said.

Aircraft that did not follow such rules would be subject to “defensive emergency measures”, the ministry added.

The disputed islands in the East China Sea have been a source of tension between China and Japan for decades.

In 2012, the Japanese government bought three of the islands from their private Japanese owner, sparking mass protests in Chinese cities.

Since then, Chinese ships have repeatedly sailed in and out of what Japan says are its territorial waters.

China said that any attempt by Japan to shoot down Chinese aircraft would constitute “an act of war”.

China is also engaged in territorial disputes with several South East Asian countries, including Vietnam and the Philippines. The disputes centre around ocean areas and two island chains in the South China Sea.

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In a recent interview, Japanese PM Shinzo Abe says other countries want Japan to adopt a more assertive leadership role in Asia to counter the growing power of China.

Shinzo Abe told the Wall Street Journal there were “concerns that China was trying to change the status quo by force, rather than by the rule of law”.

Relations between China and Japan have been strained over recent years.

China said on Saturday that if Japan shot down Chinese drones, this would be considered “an act of war” by Beijing.

The statement was referring to reports that PM Shinzo Abe had approved defense plans that envisaged using air force planes to shoot down unmanned Chinese aircraft in Japanese airspace.

Another contentious issue between the two countries is the dispute over a group of islands.

The islands, in the East China Sea, are controlled by Tokyo, but claimed by Beijing.

However, analysts say the nations’ rivalry reflects the power shift created by China’s meteoric economic and diplomatic rise while Japan has been mired in a two-decade economic slump.

Japanese PM Shinzo Abe says other countries want Japan to adopt a more assertive leadership role in Asia to counter the growing power of China

Japanese PM Shinzo Abe says other countries want Japan to adopt a more assertive leadership role in Asia to counter the growing power of China

China has warned against Japanese nationalism in a region where Japan’s colonial expansionism is still bitterly remembered.

In the interview, Shinzo Abe said he had realized that “Japan is expected to exert leadership not just on the economic front, but also in the field of security in the Asia-Pacific”.

The prime minister promised policies to counter Japan’s waning influence.

Other countries wanted Japan to stand up to China, Shinzo Abe said without naming any.

“There are concerns that China is attempting to change the status quo by force, rather than by rule of law. But if China opts to take that path, then it won’t be able to emerge peacefully,” Shinzo Abe says.

“So it shouldn’t take that path, and many nations expect Japan to strongly express that view. And they hope that as a result, China will take responsible action in the international community.”

The interview comes days after Shinzo Abe was reported to approved defense plans to intercept and shoot down foreign unmanned aircraft that ignore warnings to leave Japanese airspace.

On Saturday, China’s defense ministry responded saying: “If Japan does resort to enforcement measures like shooting down aircraft, that is a serious provocation to us, an act of war.”

“We will undertake decisive action to strike back, with every consequence borne by the side that caused the trouble,” spokesman Geng Yansheng said on the ministry’s website.

Japan has reported weaker-than-expected economic data, underlining the challenges the government faces as it tries to revive the country’s economy.

Industrial output fell 3.3% in June, from the previous month. Compared with the same month a year ago it fell 4.8%.

Meanwhile, household spending declined 0.4% from a year earlier. Analysts had expected growth of 1.0%.

Japan has been trying to boost domestic consumption in an attempt to revive its stagnant economy.

Analysts said that while the data was weak and highlighted the challenges faced by the government, it was not a cause for immediate concern.

“This is a minor blip, the overall trend is that of a recovery in Japan’s economy,” said Masaaki Kanno, Japan chief economist with JP Morgan Securities.

Japan has reported weaker-than-expected economic data, underlining the challenges the government faces as it tries to revive the country's economy

Japan has reported weaker-than-expected economic data, underlining the challenges the government faces as it tries to revive the country’s economy

PM Shinzo Abe’s government has unveiled a series of aggressive measures to boost domestic demand, which has been hurt in part by years of falling prices or deflation.

While falling consumer prices may sound good, they tend to hurt the economy as consumers and businesses put off big purchases in the hope of getting a better deal later on.

Policymakers and analysts have said that ending the deflationary cycle is the key to reviving Japan’s economy.

Earlier this year, the central bank doubled its inflation target to 2% in an attempt to boost consumer prices and spending.

There have been some indications that the steps are having an impact as data released last week showed that consumer prices rose in June, for the first time in more than a year.

The decline in Japan’s factory output was also bigger than forecast.

However, analysts said that the fall was likely to be temporary and predicted that production would jump in the coming months,

“Although June data for factory output was weak, manufacturers’ forecasts for July are strong,” said Yoshiki Shinke, chief economist at Dai-Ichi Life Research Institute.

“I think there is no change in the trend that production is expected to stay on a steady recovery as June trade data was good, benefits from the yen’s weakness are appearing and domestic demand is solid.”

According to a survey conducted by Japan’s Ministry of Economy, Trade, and Industry (METI), manufacturers expect production to rise by 6.5% in July.

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Japanese markets show a little change after PM Shinzo Abe was given a vote of confidence for his economic policy known as “Abenomics”.

As widely predicted, Shinzo Abe has won a majority in parliament’s upper house in Sunday’s elections, according to exit polls.

After climbing 1.2% in early trading, the benchmark Nikkei 225 fell back to be level for the day at about 14,590.

Analysts said the outcome had already been factored into trading strategies.

Since becoming prime minister late last year, Shinzo Abe has introduced policies aimed at ending long-running deflation in Japan and boosting growth.

“We’ve won the public’s support for decisive and stable politics so that we can pursue our economic policies, and we will make sure to live up to the expectations,” Shinzo Abe told public broadcaster NHK after he was projected to win.

Japanese markets show a little change after PM Shinzo Abe was given a vote of confidence for his economic policy

Japanese markets show a little change after PM Shinzo Abe was given a vote of confidence for his economic policy

Analysts said Shinzo Abe could now work to implement painful economic reforms referred to as the “Third Arrow” of his set of policies. The first two arrows were an ultra-loose monetary policy and government spending.

“It raises expectations that legislation will pass more easily and he can focus on revitalizing the economy,” said Takuya Takahashi from Daiwa Securities.

Takuya Takahashi added that foreign investors were reacting positively to the prospect of Japan’s first stable government since 2006.

“The likelihood that there will be no national election for the next three years is positive,” he said.

“What investors are looking for is a stable government and they are watching how Abe can tackle deflation.”

Japan has seen much political upheaval because of a “twisted parliament” where the opposition had control of the upper house.

NHK said early on Monday that Shinzo Abe’s Liberal Democratic party and its coalition partner had won a comfortable majority in the chamber.

Shinzo Abe’s policies so far have been well received by investors, with the Nikkei up about 40% this year.

The yen has also weakened in value about 15%, making exporters more profitable.

Analysts said whether the gains in the Nikkei can be extended depends on whether the dramatic structural reforms will go ahead.

Japan is voting in upper house elections expected to deliver a win for Prime Minister Shinzo Abe.

Half of the 242 seats in the chamber are being contested.

Polls show Shinzo Abe’s Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) and its allies could secure a majority, meaning a ruling party would control both houses of parliament for the first time in six years.

The deadlock in parliament has been seen as a key factor in Japan’s recent “revolving door” of prime ministers.

Polling stations opened at 07:00 and will close at 20:00.

Despite the importance of the election, early turnout was a little down from the last upper house poll in 2010.

Japan’s upper chamber, while not as powerful as its lower house, is able to block legislation introduced by the government.

Japan is voting in upper house elections expected to deliver a win for Prime Minister Shinzo Abe

Japan is voting in upper house elections expected to deliver a win for Prime Minister Shinzo Abe

No single party has a majority, although the opposition Democratic Party of Japan has the highest number of seats.

Opposition parties have had enough combined seats to control the upper chamber in recent years, leading to what has become known as a “twisted parliament”.

This has resulted in factionalism and multiple changes of prime minister.

“We need political stability to carry out policies,” Shinzo Abe said ahead of the vote.

“We will get that political stability by winning the upper house election.”

Shinzo Abe has relatively strong public support for his proposals for economic reform known as “Abenomics”, which seek to revive the economy, stagnant for two decades.

“I want them to carry on doing their best as the economy seems to be picking up,” one voter, Naohisa Hayashi, 35, told the Associated Press.

“I want to see a stable government. That’s the LiberalDemocratic Party,” 76-year-old Hiroshi Miyamoto was quoted by Reuters news agency as saying, after voting in the western Tokyo suburb of Hachioji.

But other policy changes that Shinzo Abe is seen as likely to endorse may prove to be controversial.

One is restarting Japan’s nuclear reactors – something many in Japan are opposed to.

Another are nationalistic policies that may cause tension with neighboring countries.

This includes the possible revision of Japan’s pacifist constitution, especially a section which prohibits the use of force in international disputes except for self-defense.

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Japan’s shares have climbed past the 15,000 mark for the first time since January 2008, as the yen continues to weaken – boosting the earnings potential for exporters.

The benchmark Nikkei index rose 2% to 15,096, with carmaker Toyota and consumer electronics giant Sony leading the gains.

The Nikkei is up 46% since the start of 2013.

Japan’s central bank has embarked on an aggressive plan to weaken the yen.

A weaker Japanese currency translates into higher earnings for companies when the funds are repatriated back into the country. It also makes their products more competitive overseas.

Japan’s shares have climbed past the 15,000 mark for the first time since January 2008, as the yen continues to weaken

Japan’s shares have climbed past the 15,000 mark for the first time since January 2008, as the yen continues to weaken

The yen is at a four-and-a-half year low against the US dollar, trading at the 102 mark in Asia.

The currency has declined by more than 20% since Japanese PM Shinzo Abe took office in December last year.

Shinzo Abe has backed the central bank’s ultra easy monetary policy, which calls for pumping more money into the Japanese system.

The move is aimed at weakening the currency but also raising consumer prices in the hopes of boosting consumption at home.

Japan’s economy has been battling nearly two decades of falling prices, known as deflation, which discourages spending by companies and consumers as they hold out for a better deal.

Shares of Isuzu Motors climbed 20% after it posted a record full year net profit of $946 million, driven by strong overseas sales.

Sony shares are also surging after one of the company’s biggest shareholders suggested the firm should spin off up to 20% of its entertainment business, and use the funds to shore up its struggling electronics arm.

Japan’s PM Shinzo Abe has warned China that his country will respond with force if any attempt is made to land on disputed island.

The Japanese prime minister’s comments came as eight Chinese government ships sailed near East China Sea islands that both nations claim.

A flotilla of 10 fishing boats carrying Japanese activists was also reported to be in the area, as well as the Japanese coastguard.

Shinzo Abe was speaking in parliament hours after dozens of lawmakers visited a controversial war-linked shrine.

A total of 168 lawmakers paid their respects at the Yasukuni Shrine, which commemorates Japan’s war dead, including war criminals, in a move likely to anger regional neighbors who say the shrine is a reminder of Japan’s military past.

The warning from the Japanese prime minister was the most explicit to China since Shinzo Abe took power in December.

Asked in parliament what he would do if Chinese ships tried to land on the disputed islands, Shinzo Abe said they would be expelled by force.

Japan’s PM Shinzo Abe has warned China that his country will respond with force if any attempt is made to land on disputed island

Japan’s PM Shinzo Abe has warned China that his country will respond with force if any attempt is made to land on disputed island

“Since it has become the Abe government, we have made sure that if there is an instance where there is an intrusion into our territory or it seems that there could be landing on the islands then we will deal will it strongly,” he said.

The warning came as eight Chinese ships sailed around the islands – called Senkaku in Japan and Diaoyu in China.

The Japanese coast guard said it was the highest number of Chinese boats in the area since Tokyo nationalized part of the island chain in September 2012.

China said its ships had been monitoring Japanese vessels. The State Oceanic Administration issued a statement saying three of its ships had “found” several Japanese ships around the islands and “immediately ordered another five ships in the East China Sea to meet the three ships”.

Ten Japanese boats carrying around 80 activists arrived in the area early on Tuesday, Reuters news agency reported, monitored by Japanese Coast Guard vessels. Public broadcaster NHK said the boats were carrying “regional lawmakers and members of the foreign media”.

Japan’s top government spokesman said the “intrusion into territorial waters” was “extremely regrettable”. Japan also summoned the Chinese ambassador to protest, reports said.

The territorial row has been rumbling for years but was reignited last year when Japan bought three of the islands from their private Japanese owner.

China claims the island chain, which is controlled by Japan. Taiwan also claims the islands, which offer rich fishing grounds and lie in a strategically important area.

The dispute has led to serious diplomatic tension between China and Japan, most recently in January when Japan said a Chinese frigate locked weapons-controlling radar on one of its navy ships near the islands – something China disputes.

The visit to the Yasukuni Shrine on Tuesday by lawmakers marking the spring festival is also likely to hit ties between Beijing and Tokyo.

Two cabinet ministers, including Deputy Prime Minister Taro Aso, visited the shrine on Sunday. PM Shinzo Abe did not visit but made a ritual offering.

South Korea subsequently cancelled a proposed visit by its foreign minister, while China lodged “solemn representations” in response to the ministers’ visit.

“Only when Japan faces up to its aggressive past can it embrace the future and develop friendly relations with its Asian neighbors,” Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying said on Monday.

But Japanese lawmaker Hidehisa Otsujji said it was “natural” for “lawmakers to worship at a shrine for people who died for the nation”.

“Every nation does this. I don’t understand why we get a backlash,” he said.

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Two Russian fighter jets have breached Japanese airspace, prompting Tokyo to scramble its own aircraft, reports say.

Japan lodged a protest after the planes were detected off the northern island of Hokkaido for just over a minute.

The incident happened after Japanese PM Shinzo Abe said he was seeking a solution to a territorial dispute with Russia over a Pacific island chain.

Russia’s military denied the incursion, saying the jets were making routine flights near the disputed islands.

Shinzo Abe was speaking on the anniversary of an 1855 treaty which Japan says supports its claims to the islands.

The four islands – which Russia calls the Southern Kurils and Japan calls the Northern Territories – are the subject of a 60-year-old dispute.

Because of the dispute, the two nations have not yet signed a peace treaty to end World War II.

Two Russian fighter jets have breached Japanese airspace, prompting Tokyo to scramble its own aircraft

Two Russian fighter jets have breached Japanese airspace, prompting Tokyo to scramble its own aircraft

“Today, around 03:00, military fighters belonging to Russian Federation breached our nation’s airspace above territorial waters off Rishiri island in Hokkaido,” the foreign ministry said, quoted by AFP news agency.

Hours earlier, Shinzo Abe told former inhabitants of the disputed islands and their descendents: “In the telephone talks, I told [Russian] President [Vladimir] Putin I would make efforts to find a mutually acceptable solution so as to ultimately solve the issue of the Northern Territories.”

In December, Shinzo Abe and Vladimir Putin agreed to restart talks on signing a peace treaty.

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