CHINA reacted mildly today to a Japanese naval destroyer's shooting down of a dummy ballistic missile over the Pacific, saying only that it hoped its Asian neighbour would not cause instability in the region.
Japan has been working with the US on missile defence and today shot down the missile in space, becoming the first US ally to accomplish such a feat from a ship at sea.The US and Japan alliance tworries China because of any implications it may have for Taiwan, the self-governed island Beijing claims as its own.
China fears that Japan could help the US defend Taiwan should China use force to try to bring the island under mainland rule.The US switched diplomatic recognition from Taipei to Beijing in 1979, recognising "one China", but is obliged by the Taiwan Relations Act to help the island defend itself.
"We have taken note that Japan has reiterated many times it will follow the path of peaceful development," Foreign Ministry spokesman Qin Gang said."We also hope that the relevant actions of the Japanese side will be conducive to safeguarding peace and stability in the region," he said.
Asked about reports linking the missile interception to the Taiwan issue, Qin said he could not comment directly."The Taiwan question is China's internal affair," he said.
"China opposes any country meddling in the Taiwan question in any form."The muted response could be due to a pending visit by Japanese Prime Minister Yasuo Fukuda, who is expected in China in coming weeks for his first visit to the country as leader.
Ties between the two countries, who compete for diplomatic and economic influence in Asia, have improved since an "ice-breaking" visit by Fukuda's predecessor, Shinzo Abe, last year, and a reciprocal trip by Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao in April.
But relations remain sensitive to Japan's past militarism and wartime invasion of China, and the two have a long-running dispute over territorial boundaries and natural resources in the East China Sea.