NAHA, OKINAWA PREF. - Eight Chinese maritime surveillance vessels entered Japanese territorial waters Tuesday around the Senkaku Islands in the East China Sea, the Japan Coast Guard said.
China’s State Oceanic Administration said the vessels were there to monitor the activity of a flotilla of boats reportedly carrying members of a Japanese nationalist group. China regards the area as its territorial waters.
This is the most Chinese ships to enter Japanese waters near the Senkakus since the central government purchased three of them from their Saitama owner last September and effectively nationalized the chain, according to the 11th Regional Coast Guard Headquarters in Naha, Okinawa Prefecture.
The Foreign Ministry said it summoned the Chinese ambassador and lodged a protest over the maritime activity.
“It is extremely regrettable and unacceptable that Chinese state ships continue to engage in intrusion,” Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga told a news conference. “We are protesting strictly through our diplomatic channels.”
The intrusion came after around 10 fishing boats carrying members of a conservative political group called Ganbare Nippon left Ishigaki Island in Okinawa and headed toward the Senkakus on Monday night.
China’s State Oceanic Administration said that after three of its marine surveillance ships — the Haijian 51, 23 and 46 — spotted the Japanese boats in the area of Uotsuri, the largest islet in the Senkakus, five other ships — the Haijian 50, 15, 49, 66 and 137 — were ordered to alter course and converge on the area.
Running in four formations, the eight Chinese ships monitored the Japanese ships from different angles, it said in a statement.
Prime Minister Shinzo Abe vowed to “expel by force” any Chinese landing on the islets.
“We would take decisive action against any attempt to enter territorial waters and to land,” Abe told the Diet in response to questions from lawmakers. “We would never allow” a landing.
“It would be natural for us to expel by force (the Chinese) if they were to make a landing,” he said.
According to the 11th Regional Coast Guard Headquarters, Japan’s surveillance vessels instructed the Chinese ships to leave after they entered the area in succession between 7:20 a.m. and 8:25 a.m.
Two Chinese fishery surveillance vessels were also spotted sailing in the contiguous zone outside the territorial waters around the islets, the coast guard said.
Suga said he was not in a position to know China’s intent but added he did not believe the ships’ activity had anything to do with recent visits to war-linked Yasukuni Shrine in Tokyo by some Cabinet members.
Bilateral relations have been frayed over conflicting claims to the islets as well as visits to Yasukuni, which honors 2.5 million Japanese war dead, including 14 Class-A war criminals.