Two Chinese patrol boats reached waters off the disputed Senkaku Islands on Sept. 11, a significant escalation in the standoff just a day after Beijing threatened to retaliate over a move by Japan's government to nationalize three of the islands.
The vessels were identified as the Haijian 46 and Haijian 49 from the China Marine Surveillance. The Chinese maritime force is a paramilitary agency whose ships are often lightly armed, according to The Associated Press.
China's Xinhua state news agency said the deployment is based on an action plan drawn up to protect China's sovereignty.
The Japan Coast Guard said it had dispatched patrol vessels to the area. As of 1 p.m. on Sept. 11, the Chinese boats showed no sign of approaching the Senkakus themselves, remaining instead at the border of Japan's and China's exclusive economic zones.
The boats' appearance coincided with a meeting of the Japanese Cabinet, which ratified a Sept. 10 decision by Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda to purchase the island of Uotsurishima, plus the two neighboring islands of Kita-Kojima and Minami-Kojima, for 2.05 billion yen ($25.95 million). Under Japanese law, they are currently the property of a private Japanese landowner. China and Taiwan both claim the islands; China calls them Diaoyu.
China's rapid response, swifter than during a flare-up in 2010 when a Chinese fishing boat collided with Japanese Coast Guard vessels near the islands and the captain was arrested, suggested China had prepared a response in advance.
Sources in China's government said that plan was drawn up by officials in the foreign and commerce ministries, as well as China's military and State Oceanic Administration.
On Sept. 10, China's leader declared China would never yield in its sovereignty claim.
"The government and people of China will never budge even half an inch over the sovereignty and territorial issue," said Premier Wen Jiabao, in remarks to an audience of students at China Foreign Affairs University in Beijing.
Observers said it is unusual for a Chinese leader to make blunt criticism of an act by a foreign nation. Until now, criticism of Japan has come predominantly from China's foreign ministry and state-run media.
Also Sept. 10, China's government announced new base lines for its territorial waters around the Senkaku Islands.
The same day in Beijing, Foreign Minister Yang Jiechi summoned Japan's ambassador, Uichiro Niwa, to make a strong protest.
The ministry also released a lengthy statement, expressing firm opposition and fierce protest by the government and people.
It further denounced Japan by digging in over past disagreements on historical problems and indicated China would retaliate.
Some observers believe additional measures could include penalties for Japanese companies, such as tougher customs clearance or direct sanctions.
When Hong Kong-based activists landed on Uotsurishima in August, Japan decided not to charge them. Instead it promptly deported them, and China's government apparently tried to tamp down tensions and prevent the row from spilling over into retaliation in the private sector.
But China let loose when Japan apparently snubbed its calls not to nationalize the islets.
China appeared particularly furious that the nationalization move seemed to ignore a Sept. 9 appeal by President Hu Jintao to Noda for prudence. The two were attending the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation forum in Vladivostok.
"We must review (private sector exchanges) if Japan doesn't really want to preserve friendly relations," said a senior official in the Communist Party's department handling China-Japan exchanges. The official indicated Sept. 10 that the dispute could disrupt grass-roots activities.
On Sept. 11, a news conference in Shanghai on the Toray Cup Shanghai International Marathon, to be held there in December, was halted five minutes after it began.
Officials told The Asahi Shimbun that the news conference was canceled at the order of a vice mayor of Shanghai due to the dispute over the Senkaku Islands.
In the media briefing that began at 10 a.m. local time, senior officials with the Shanghai Sports Administration and Toray Industries, the sponsor, were introduced along with a promotional video.
Then, Chen Yiping, deputy director of the administration, who was seated in the front row, received a call on his cellphone and left the room. Chen returned and whispered something to the master of ceremonies, who then announced that the news conference would be canceled for various reasons and that no reporting should be done on the cancellation.
The top leaders of the municipal government decided to cancel the media event after the Japanese government’s decision to purchase the islands, according to Chinese officials.
According to Toray, the marathon will be held in December as scheduled.
(This article was written by Kenji Minemura and Atsushi Okudera.)
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