NAHA - Three Chinese maritime surveillance ships sailed inside Japanese territorial waters near the disputed Senkaku Islands in the East China Sea on Thursday morning, according to the Japan Coast Guard.
It is the first time in four days that Chinese government ships have entered Japanese waters. The Chinese vessels entered the waters shortly after 7 a.m. and remained there until around 9:20 a.m.
Shinsuke Sugiyama, director general of the Japanese Foreign Ministry’s Asian and Oceanian Affairs Bureau, lodged a protest by phone with Han Zhiqiang, Chinese minister-counselor to Japan, who reiterated China’s claim over the sovereignty of the islands.
Responding to the coast guard’s warning not to enter Japanese waters, one of the vessels replied by radio that the Senkakus have been Chinese territory since ancient times, according to the 11th Regional Coast Guard Headquarters in Naha, Okinawa Prefecture.
The three ships continued to sail in the contiguous zone just outside Japan’s territorial waters. Two Chinese fisheries patrol vessels were also spotted traveling in the zone.
Japan and China remain at odds over the sovereignty of the uninhabited islands. The dispute reignited after the Japanese government purchased three of the five main islands in the Senkaku group from a private Japanese owner last September.
With regard to the territorial issue, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe on Thursday called for Beijing’s efforts to improve relations with Tokyo.
“Japan has left the door open at every level,” he said at a Diet session. “We want to restore a relationship under which we can have frank discussions.”
Meanwhile, a fisheries cooperative in southwestern Japan’s Kagoshima Prefecture said Thursday two fishing boats from the city of Ibusuki were tracked by two Chinese ships at close range in waters close to Uotsuri Island, the largest of the Senkakus, in early February.
The two Japanese boats gave up fishing in the area as the Chinese ships sailed close to them for about six hours, according to the cooperative.