A Chinese coast guard ship equipped with what appeared to be four gun turrets was sighted near disputed islands in the East China Sea, the Japan Coast Guard said Wednesday.
Chinese coast guard vessels regularly sail near the islets, but a Japanese Coast Guard spokeswoman said it is the first time an armed Chinese coast guard ship has been spotted in the area. For its part, China said the vessel was carrying standard equipment and was doing nothing wrong in Chinese waters.
“We have delivered our strong protest and requested (the Chinese coast guard) to stop the activities near the Senkaku Islands immediately,” Takako Ito, a spokeswoman for Foreign Ministry in Tokyo, said in an email.
The group of tiny, uninhabited islands are known as the Diaoyus in China.
“Japan will continue to act firmly and calmly, under the principle of resolutely defending our territorial land, sea and air,” she said.
Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Hong Lei reiterated China’s stance that the islands have been Chinese territory since ancient times.
“Patrols by Chinese coast guard ships in the relevant seas are beyond reproach,” Hong said at a daily news briefing. “The equipment on Chinese coast guard vessels is standard equipment and no different from international practice.”
The vessel, first sighted Tuesday afternoon, was sailing 29 km (18 miles) off one of the contested islands at 9 a.m. Wednesday, a Japan Coast Guard official said.
Sino-Japanese ties have long been mired by the dispute over the Japanese-controlled islands.
Patrol ships and fighter jets from both sides regularly shadow each other near the islands, stoking concern that an accidental collision could trigger a clash.
Japan said in 2013 a Chinese Navy vessel aimed fire control radar, normally used to aim weapons at a target, at a Marine Self-Defense Force ship in the East China Sea, prompting Japan to protest.
China also claims most of the energy-rich South China Sea, through which $5 trillion in ship-borne trade passes every year. The Philippines, Vietnam, Malaysia, Taiwan and Brunei have overlapping claims.