China accused Japan on Thursday of ratcheting up maritime tensions by scrambling jets to monitor Chinese aircrafts that approach a group of disputed islands in the East China Sea.
The remarks from the Chinese foreign ministry followed a Japanese defense ministry statement on Wednesday that the number of scrambles against Chinese planes nearly doubled to 306 in the year that ended in March, Reuters news agency reported.
That accounted for an increase in the overall number from 425 to 567, the highest level in 22 years, Japan's defense ministry said.
Chinese foreign ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying said China remained resolute in defending its claim to the islands, but it wanted to reach a solution through dialogue and negotiation.
"We all know Japan has continuously provoked and escalated tensions over the Diaoyu," Hua Chunying was quoted as saying by the Associated Press news agency.
“What Japan needs to do is, not send more planes, but show sincerity and action and talk with China,” she added.
Beijing, in a defense white paper issued on Tuesday, had accused Japan of creating trouble by nationalizing the disputed islands.
“On the issues concerning China’s territorial sovereignty and maritime rights and interests, some neighboring countries are taking actions that complicate or exacerbate the situation, and Japan is making trouble over the issue of the Diaoyu Islands,” the Chinese government statement said.
Tokyo responded immediately by protesting the paper through diplomatic channels, repeating that there was no territorial dispute between the two countries because the islands were Japanese territory, Japan’s Kyodo news agency reported.
The dispute over the uninhabited islands, known as the Senkaku Islands in Japan and the Diaoyu Islands in China, escalated on Sept.11 last year, when the Japanese government announced the signing of a contract worth 2.05 billion yen ($26 million) to buy three of the five main islands from their private owner.
The islands, which lie some 200km (124 miles) off Japan's Okinawa island and beyond China's 200 nautical mile (370km) exclusive economic zone, are surrounded by an area rich in fisheries and are believed to contain significant hydrocarbon resources.
China has laid claim to the islands since the U.N. returned them to Japanese sovereignty in accordance with the Okinawa Reversion Agreement that ended the U.S. occupation of Okinawa. Despite the normalization of relations between China and Japan in 1972, repeated tussles involving fishing and patrol boats from China, Japan, Taiwan and Hong Kong have occurred in the past.