The Diaoyu (to the Chinese) or the Senkaku (to the Japanese) Islands have been at the root of rising tensions between the neighboring countries. Both claim sovereignty over the islands, and anti-Japanese protests in China have turned violent, leading observers to worry that the tiny, rocky outcrops -- small but near international shipping lanes and sitting at the center of an area rich in fish and possibly oil and gas -- might become a flashpoint between the world's second- and third-largest economies.
But Tokyo and Beijing seem to be more interested in dialogue than confrontation at this point, and a report in the South China Morning Post on Thursday indicated that the Japanese government had confirmed the start of a diplomatic dialogue at the highest level.
Press reports state that the Chinese and Japanese have been in secret meetings this week, which could be a sign of Sino-Japanese efforts to alleviate any political unease as China gets ready for the Communist Party’s National Congress meeting on Nov. 8. The congress is expected to choose the country's next leadership, with a new president, prime minister and standing committee of the party's Politburo.
Japan's Chief Cabinet Secretary Osamu Fujimura confirmed that Deputy Foreign Minister Chikao Kawai met with senior Chinese officials, including his direct counterpart, Zhang Zhijun, in Shanghai over the weekend.
But reports of naval military presence spotted off the shores of the islands run the risk of derailing any further diplomatic dialogue.
According to the Associated Press, Japan’s Coast Guard said four Chinese surveillance ships were spotted within areas that Tokyo considers Japanese waters.
In a conflicting report, China’s Global Times said that only three Chinese ocean surveillance ships entered the waters surrounding the islands, even naming the specific ship numbers, 51, 75 and 83.
The Chinese surveillance ships have now raised concerns within Japan’s Foreign Ministry, leading to a protest being lodged with China’s ambassador in Tokyo.
This would be the second time this month that Chinese ships enter the waters surrounding the islands.