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Japan suggests hotline to Beijing over island spat

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(Globalpost/GlobalPost)

Japan has suggested setting up a military hotline with China to avoid clashes between the two countries, which are at loggerheads over a group of disputed islands, Tokyo's defence minister said Saturday.

The proposal came after Tokyo accused a Chinese frigate of locking its weapons-tracking radar on a Japanese destroyer -- a claim Beijing has denied.

The incident, which Japan said happened last week, marked the first time the two nations' navies have locked horns in a territorial dispute that provoked fears of armed conflict breaking out between the two.

The neighbours -- also the world's second and third-largest economies -- have seen ties sour over the uninhabited Japanese-controlled islands in the East China Sea, known as Senkaku in Tokyo and Diaoyu by Beijing, which claims them.

"What's important is to create a hotline, so that we would be able to communicate swiftly when this kind of incident happens," Defence Minister Itsunori Onodera told reporters.

He said Tokyo told Beijing on Thursday through its embassy in China that it wants to resume talks on creating a "seaborne communication mechanism" between military officials of both countries.

Onodera also said Japan was considering disclosing evidence to bolster its accusation of the lock-on incident, after Beijing rejected the charge.

"We have evidence. The government is considering the extent of what can be disclosed", because it includes confidential information on Japan's defence capability, Onodera said.

The comments came after Prime Minister Shinzo Abe demanded Beijing apologise and admit the incident took place.

Tokyo has also charged that last month a Chinese frigate's radar locked on to a Japanese helicopter, in a procedure known as "painting" that is a precursor to firing weaponry.

For both alleged incidents, on January 19 and January 30, China's defence ministry said in a statement to AFP that the Chinese ship-board radar maintained normal operations and "fire-control radar was not used".

The hawkish Japanese premier on Thursday called the radar incident "extremely regrettable", "dangerous" and "provocative", but also said dialogue must remain an option.

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http://www.globalpost.com/dispatch/news/afp/130209/japan-suggests-hotline-beijing-over-island-spat