• Kyodo

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Japan lodged a protest Wednesday after China Coast Guard vessels entered Japanese territorial waters around the Senkaku Islands in the East China Sea.

Chinese government ships and fishing boats have repeatedly sailed near the uninhabited islands, which China claims and calls Diaoyu, drawing protest from Tokyo.

Four Chinese Coast Guard ships entered Japanese waters at around 10 a.m., the first such move since Aug. 9, according to the Japan Coast Guard. One of the ships was apparently armed.

The ships left the waters at around 11:40 a.m., the coast guard said.

Kenji Kanasugi, director general of the Foreign Ministry’s Asian and Oceanian Affairs Bureau, lodged a protest with the Chinese Embassy in Tokyo, the ministry said.

China has stepped up intrusions off the Senkaku Islands amid Japanese criticism of Chinese assertiveness in the South China Sea, where a number of countries’ claims overlap.

Between Aug. 5 and Aug. 9, a maximum of 15 Chinese government vessels sailed in the so-called contiguous zone just outside Japanese territorial waters around the Senkakus at the same time, the largest Chinese fleet ever to enter the area, according to the Japanese Coast Guard.

At that time, approximately 200 to 300 fishing vessels were operating in the contiguous zone off the uninhabited islets.

Although Chinese fishing vessels are allowed to operate in the zone, it is unusual for hundreds to sail there while being accompanied by a fleet of government ships.

Japan is stepping up efforts to draw attention to Chinese activities around the disputed Senkaku Islands in the East China Sea, posting on its Foreign Ministry website on Tuesday documents indicating that the situation is as serious as in the South China Sea.

“The number of Chinese government vessels currently deployed to the area around the (Japanese-controlled) Senkaku Islands is far higher” than the number of ships in waters near the Scarborough Shoal in the South China Sea, another area in which China is involved in a territorial dispute with neighboring countries, the ministry said.

According to the ministry, usually around three Chinese government vessels are deployed in the contiguous zone of the Senkakus, while four or five vessels are deployed in waters near the Scarborough Shoal, which has been seized by China despite an ownership claim by the Philippines.

The Japanese government lodged 30 protests with China from Aug. 5 to Aug. 10, during a flurry of incursions by Chinese government vessels, according to the ministry.

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