A Chinese navy vessel aimed a type of radar normally used to aim weapons at a target at a Japanese navy ship in the East China Sea, prompting Japan to protest, Japan’s defence minister said on Tuesday, an action that could complicate efforts to cool tension in a territorial row between the rivals.
“Projecting fire control radar is very unusual,” Japanese Defence Minister Itsunori Onodera told reporters of the incident, which he said occurred on Jan. 30 but took time to confirm.
“One mistake, and the situation would become very dangerous.”
Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, however, told Onodera it was important to respond calmly and not meet provocation with provocation, Kyodo news agency reported.
Hopes have been rising for a thaw in ties between Asia’s two biggest economies since a chill began in September when Tokyo nationalised a chain of rocky, uninhabited isles in the East China Sea.
In particular, there are hopes for a leaders’ summit to help ease the strains that a junior Japanese coalition partner said on Tuesday could take place as early as April.
But deep mistrust, simmering nationalism in both countries and bitter Chinese memories of Japan’s wartime aggression mean the road to a summit will be rocky and any rapprochement fragile.
Onodera said a similar incident may have occurred on Jan. 19, when a Chinese naval ship may have directed so-called fire control radar at a Japanese navy helicopter.
The long-running row over the islands, known as the Senkaku in Japan and the Diaoyu in China, has in recent months escalated to the point where both sides have scrambled fighter jets while patrol ships shadow each other.