TOKYO - Japan urged China on Tuesday to exercise restraint in the South China Sea after reports that a Vietnamese fishing boat was rammed by a Chinese fishing boat and sunk in disputed waters the previous day.
"It was an extremely dangerous action that could threaten people's lives," Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga told a press conference in Tokyo. "It is important for the countries concerned to refrain from unilateral action that would raise tensions and to handle matters calmly, while observing international law."
Monday's incident was the first reported sinking of a vessel since China stationed an oil rig near the Paracel Islands in the South China Sea in early May.
Vietnamese and Chinese vessels have since clashed with each other repeatedly near the islands, which are claimed by both countries but controlled by China.
Saying the reported sinking poses a "serious problem," Japanese Defense Minister Itsunori Onodera told a press conference that facts around the incident "need to be revealed in a steady manner within the international community."
China denied responsibility for sinking the boat, saying the vessel capsized after it attempted to disrupt Chinese drilling activities in the area.
Japan is "fishing in troubled waters," Chinese foreign spokesman Qin Gang told reporters at a daily press briefing. "We urge the Japanese side to respect the facts and stop making irresponsible remarks."
The incident came just days after Chinese fighter jets flew unusually close to Japanese Air and Maritime Self-Defense Force airplanes above the East China Sea, where islands disputed between Japan and China are located.
The defense chief indicated that a code of conduct needs to be considered in multilateral settings to ensure safety in the air.
"If it's difficult to develop a framework between Japan and China, it's important to propose one in multilateral settings," he said.
Ten crew members on the Vietnamese fishing boat that sunk in the South China Sea were rescued by another Vietnamese ship, according to reports.