BEIJING, Jan. 16 (UPI) -- A top Chinese official called for dialogue on the island dispute with Japan while a spokesman said Beijing remained on high alert over the escalating tensions.
Amid the fast worsening tensions between China and Japan over their rival claims to a group of uninhabited islands in the East China Sea, former Japanese Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama visited Beijing Wednesday and met with China's top political adviser Jia Qinglin, who holds the title of chairman of the National Committee of the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference.
Jia said the two sides should resolve the dispute over the islands -- called Diaoyu in China and Senkaku in Japan -- through dialogue and consultation, the official Xinhua News Agency reported. The resource-rich islands have been under Japanese control for decades.
"The two sides should handle the Diaoyu Islands dispute properly in order to ensure that bilateral relations remain on a track of healthy and stable development," Jia said. He said cooperation between China and Japan would serve the fundamental interests of both sides, as well as the region and the international community.
Separately Wednesday, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Hong Lei, commenting on reports about Japanese stand on Chinese jets entering the islands' airspace, said China is on high alert as Japan escalates tensions, Xinhua reported.
Japan's Mainichi Daily News reported the new Japanese government headed by Prime Minister Shinzo Abe is considering stationing a fleet of fighter jets on the Sakishima Islands near the disputed islands on the Okinawa prefecture to deal more effectively and promptly with the Chinese planes.
"China has taken note of relevant reports. The patrol conducted by China's public service ships and planes in waters and airspace of the islands is a normal performance of duty to exercise jurisdiction," the Chinese spokesman said. He also said China opposes Japanese planes and vessels entering the waters and airspace of the disputed islands, Xinhua said.
The dispute over the islands, which China's claims are part of its territory, deteriorated last September when Japan nationalized them. Immediately thereafter, there were widespread protests in China, some violent, and led to boycott of Japanese goods. The issue already had affected bilateral trade totaling about $345 billion annually.
Since September, China's official media has been bitterly attacking the Japanese stand, while some of its officials have also issued warnings.
Shinzo Abe, whose Liberal Democratic Party came to power in December after winning parliament elections in Japan, also has come under criticism. He is seen as a conservative and a hardliner on the island issue and being close to the United States, whose new Asia pivot policy is raising concerns in Beijing.
In his meeting with Hatoyama, Jia said China attaches importance to its ties with Japan and will continue to work to develop bilateral relations in accordance with previous agreements, Xinhua reported.
Hatoyama, whose China visit was private, was quoted as saying Japan needs to work with China to tackle global issues, as well as promote cooperation in East Asia.
Last week, China rejected Japan's protest over the presence of four of its vessels in the waters off the Senkaku Islands. Japan's chief government spokesman Yoshihide Suga had described the Chinese presence an "extremely unusual incident and very regrettable."
China maintained it conducts such patrols regularly for administrative purposes. Simultaneously, China also accused Japan of scrambling its fighter jets to "violate the islands' airspace and letting its vessels enter China's territorial waters off the islands."