Chinese authorities are vowing to protect their claim to the disputed Senkaku Islands in Okinawa Prefecture as they sent six marine surveillance vessels on Sept. 14 into Japanese territorial waters around the islands, a Japan Coast Guard patrol vessel confirmed.
The intrusion comes two days before a three-and-a-half-month ban on fishing in the East China Sea ends on Sept. 16, which could further increase confrontation in the waters near the Senkakus.
The group of five uninhabited islands and reefs are administered by Japan but are claimed by China, which calls them the Diaoyu Islands.
"A large number of fishing boats will leave their ports," a senior official of the Chinese Agriculture Ministry's Bureau of Fisheries told Chinese reporters. "We will resolutely protect China's sovereignty and the safety of fishers and step up controls in marine areas that include the Diaoyu Islands."
Following the Japanese government's acquisition of three of the Senkaku Islands--Uotsurishima, Kita-Kojima and Minami-Kojima--from a private owner on Sept. 11, Beijing warned that it will take necessary countermeasures. The approach of the six Chinese marine surveillance vessels are believed to be part of those counteractions.
The Japan Coast Guard is warning the Chinese vessels to stay out of its territorial waters, but all six ships remain in surrounding waters as of 1 p.m. on Sept. 14. The coast guard has dispatched a multitude of patrol vessels and aircraft to the site with orders to stay on alert.
According to the coast guard, two Chinese vessels entered a contiguous zone outside Japan's territorial waters at around 5 a.m. on Sept. 14 from north of Taishoto Island, the easternmost component of the Senkaku Islands. They continued south and crossed into Japan's territorial waters around 6:20 a.m., and remained there until around 7:50 a.m., when they departed the territorial waters heading south.
Another fleet of four Chinese vessels was spotted just past 6:40 a.m. by the Japan Coast Guard in a contiguous zone 33 kilometers to the north-northeast of Kubashima Island, which is 85 km to the west of Taishoto Island. The vessels entered Japan's territorial waters around 7:10 a.m., and one of the four vessels left the territorial waters at 8:30 a.m.
A Japan Coast Guard patrol vessel used wireless radio and other means to call on the fleet of four to leave its territorial waters. One Chinese vessel responded in Japanese and used the Japanese name of Uotsurishima for the largest island, instead of the Chinese name of Diaoyu Island, to argue that Uotsurishima is part of China's territory and the vessels were engaging in legitimate activities. It demanded the Japan Coast Guard patrol vessel to instead leave the area immediately, Coast Guard officials said.
The Japan Coast Guard said that, apart from the six Chinese vessels, two more are sailing along on a course outside Japan's contiguous zone.
The six are the largest number of Chinese official vessels that have intruded into Japan's territorial waters around the Senkaku Islands at one time. Previously, up to only three have entered Japanese territorial waters at a time, and that breach occurred in July, Coast Guard officials said.
In China, the state-run Xinhua News Agency said Sept. 14 that two fleets of marine surveillance ships--made up of four and two ships, respectively--"started patrol and law enforcement around the Diaoyu Islands" to "safeguard (China's) sovereignty." The report emphasized the "patrols" are based on Beijing's announcement Sept. 11 of base points and baselines of China's territorial waters around the Senkaku Islands.
China's "Hai Jian" marine surveillance vessels, which entered Japan's territorial waters in the latest intrusion, are affiliated with the State Oceanic Administration and are operated for purposes of marine surveys and the conservation of maritime interests in general. By comparison, the "Yu Zheng" monitoring vessels, which have previously made frequent appearances around the Senkaku Islands, are affiliated with the Ministry of Agriculture and are principally aimed at monitoring fishing operations.
Both the "Hai Jian" and "Yu Zheng" vessels come in different sizes and capabilities according to vessel types, all of which may be armed for self-defense.
Hong Lei, a deputy director-general of the Chinese Foreign Ministry's Press and Media Service, called on Japan to "rectify the error (of purchasing the islands) and come back to the tracks of dialogue."
It appears inevitable, however, that Beijing will continue to step up the countermeasures if it concludes that Tokyo plans to pay no attention to its demands.
(This report was compiled from reports by Yoshihito Kawami and Nozomu Hayashi.)
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