NAHA, OKINAWA PREF. – Four China Coast Guard vessels, including one equipped with what the Japan Coast Guard said are guns, were spotted Sunday sailing near the disputed Senkaku Islands in the East China Sea.
Chinese vessels were last found sailing in the sea area on Dec. 26, when an armed China Coast Guard vessel entered Japanese waters off the Senkakus for the first time.
The Haijing 31241, the vessel believed to be armed, entered a contiguous zone just outside Japanese territorial waters with the Haijing 2401, 2166 and 2101, according to the 11th Regional Coast Guard Headquarters based in Naha, Okinawa Prefecture.
A Japan Coast Guard patrol vessel warned the Chinese vessels against approaching the Japanese waters.
Chinese ships have often been seen in the area after Japan purchased a major part of the uninhabited islets from a Japanese private landholder and put them under state control in 2012.
China and Taiwan both claim the islets, calling them Diaoyu and Tiaoyutai, respectively.
The development could trigger concern in Japan that China may be escalating its activities in the disputed parts of the East China Sea.