A private boat carrying Taiwanese protesters and nine accompanying Taiwanese patrol vessels briefly entered Japanese territorial waters near a disputed island in the East China Sea early Monday despite repeated advance warnings from Japan.
Chief Cabinet Secretary Nobutaka Machimura denounced the intrusion as “regrettable” but added that both Taiwan and Japan “should act calmly” to avoid disturbing the regional peace.
A Taiwanese TV report quoted government officials in Taipei as saying the patrol boats accompanied the protest ship to ensure its safety.
The activists’ boat entered Japanese waters near Uotsuri Island, one of the uninhabited Senkaku islets, at around 5:53 a.m., to protest the accidental June 10 sinking of a Taiwanese fishing boat in a collision with the Japan Coast Guard ship Koshiki off the island.
After circling the islet, the 10 Taiwanese vessels departed Japanese waters at around 8:36 a.m., according to the Japanese government.
Japan Coast Guard vessels repeatedly issued warnings and tried to get the Taiwanese boats to turn back, coast guard officials said.
The Senkakus are controlled by Japan but are claimed by Taiwan and China and have been a frequent source of diplomatic tension.
“We have repeatedly warned and made requests through diplomatic channels (in advance). It’s regrettable that a territorial intrusion like this took place,” Machimura said.
But he admitted the Koshiki was partially to blame for the sinking of the Lianhe Hao, which carried three crew members and 13 passengers, all of whom were rescued by the Japan Coast Guard vessel.
The coast guard has already turned over to prosecutors its case against the captain of the Koshiki for “professional negligence causing injury” and a dangerous situation that led to the accident.
The coast guard also turned over its case against the Lianhe Hao’s skipper, who allegedly committed “professional negligence and endangerment.”
Through its investigation, the coast guard has concluded errors by both sides led to the collision, Machimura said.
Taiwan has demanded a clear apology and compensation from Japan for the Lianhe Hao’s sinking.
According to a statement issued by Taiwan’s Foreign Ministry, Japanese officials told the Taiwanese side that the incident was “regrettable” and expressed their intention to offer compensation for the sunken boat.
The Taiwan government said it considers the word “regrettable” as a first step in Tokyo expressing its good will but will keep seeking an official apology.
Although those aboard the Taiwanese boat were promptly rescued, some were slightly injured in the accident.
Japan-Taiwan ties entered rocky times after Ma Ying-jeou of the Nationalist Party was elected the island’s president in March. Taiwan’s relations with China have meanwhile quickly improved since Ma’s inauguration.
Ma, who in the past was branded an anti-Japanese politician, has claimed he attaches great importance to the island’s ties with Tokyo.
But amid public anger in Taiwan over last week’s incident, Taipei recalled its de facto ambassador to Japan.
Japan declared sovereignty over the Senkaku islets in 1895 and they have been under the country’s control, with the exception of during the Allied Occupation, since then. The U.S. returned them to Japan in 1971.
The dispute with China over the Senkaku islets has intensified in recent years after potentially rich gas reserves were discovered nearby.