Three Chinese government ships were plying waters around the Senkaku Islands on Thursday, the Japan Coast Guard reported.
The maritime surveillance vessels entered the 12-nautical-mile zone regarded as the territorial waters of Uotsurijima, one of the Senkaku islets that Japan controls but China claims as Diaoyu in the East China Sea, shortly before 8:30 a.m., the Coast Guard said.
Vessels from the two countries have for months traded warnings over intrusions into what both regard as sovereign areas while Beijing and Tokyo jostle over the ownership of the strategically sited and possibly resource-rich islet chain.
The territorial row, which dates back four decades, reignited last September when Tokyo purchased three of the islets, in what it said was a mere administrative change of ownership but effectively nationalized the entire Senkakus group.
Former Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama came under fire this week after saying he understood China’s claim to the islands. Hatoyama, whose stint in the top job is usually regarded as a disaster, told Hong Kong-based Phoenix Television it was “unavoidable” that China believed Japan “stole” the Senkaku Islands from Chinese jurisdiction.
Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga on Wednesday declared himself dumbfounded over the remark.