The government summoned Beijing’s envoy to Tokyo on Thursday after China Coast Guard ships entered and remained in Japan’s territorial waters for over 24 hours near the islet chain at the center of a bitter row between the Asian giants.
The Chinese vessels entered the waters Wednesday and didn’t leave the area until around noon Thursday, the Foreign Ministry said, marking the longest incursion since the long-simmering dispute over the Japan-held Senkaku Islands erupted again last year.
The government issued a protest to acting Chinese Ambassador Han Zhiqiang over the incident, a Foreign Ministry spokesman said.
“The Chinese side argued its . . . position and said it could not accept Japan’s protest,” the spokesman said after China’s envoy met with Japanese officials in Tokyo.
The incursion was the latest in a series by Chinese government ships in recent months around the Senkakus, a flash point that some observers say could even potentially lead to armed conflict between the two nations. China claims the islets as Diaoyu.
The East China Sea archipelago is located in rich fishing grounds and is believed to harbor vast natural resources in its surrounding seabed.
Four Chinese ships entered into the Japanese waters around 7:30 am Wednesday, according to the Japan Coast Guard. One of the four left the area Wednesday evening but it was soon replaced by another of Beijing’s ships. All four vessels eventually departed from the waters Thursday.
The longest prior stay by Chinese vessels was around 14 hours in February, the Japan Coast Guard said. “The latest incident marks the longest stay” since last year, a coast guard official said.
The long-running dispute flared after Japan effectively nationalized the chain last September, setting off a diplomatic row and riots across China. A Chinese boycott of Japanese brands quickly followed, weighing on exports to the key market.
The territorial tensions and maritime skirmishes have all but frozen bilateral relations.
A survey found Thursday that Chinese and Japanese citizens hold the least favorable views of each others’ countries for almost a decade.
A total of 92.8 percent of the Japanese canvassed said they have a bad or relatively poor impression of China, while 90.1 percent of Chinese hold similar feelings toward Japan, according to the poll by the state-run China Daily and the Japanese think tank Genron.
Japan took control of the Senkakus in 1895, and China started claiming them in the 1970s after the seabed mineral potential near the islets was reported.