Chinese ships are entering parts of Japanese territory where they have never been seen before, raising the hackles of the Japanese government.
In addition to waters around the Japanese-administered Senkaku Islands off Taiwan, Chinese coast guard ships have recently been spotted off Kyushu and around the Tsugaru Strait — the waterway between Honshu and Hokkaido — for the first time.
Worried China may step up its maritime provocations further, the government plans to call for self-restraint, officials said.
On July 2, a surveillance ship belonging to the China’s navy entered the Tsugaru Strait.
On July 15, a Chinese coast guard vessel sailed close to Tsushima Island, Nagasaki Prefecture, and the same vessel was spotted with another ship off Okinoshima Island, part of nearby Fukuoka Prefecture, later in the day.
Furthermore, the two ships entered Japanese territorial waters in the Tsugaru Strait last Monday.
China informed Japan in advance of the passage of the coast guard ships in the Tsugaru Strait from the Sea of Japan, explaining that they were to take part in fisheries patrols in the northern Pacific Ocean, a Japanese official said.
But Japan was not convinced by the explanation.
“They could take a route in the high seas to reach the northern Pacific, but they purposely sailed in Japanese waters,” the official said.
Under the U.N. Convention on the Law of the Sea, ships of all states have the right of innocent passage through others’ territorial waters, without infringing on the peace and security of the coastal states. Therefore, the Japanese government has stopped short of filing an immediate protest and has instead informed China of its interest in the passage through waters in an attempt to find out the intentions behind these activities.
Some in the Japanese government suspect that the latest incursions represent retaliation by China for Japan’s support for the United States’ Freedom of Navigation operations in the South China Sea, where China has been increasingly assertive about its sovereignty claims.
In the meantime, Chinese incursions into Japanese waters around the uninhabited Senkaku Islands continued for a 17th day straight on Saturday.
China claims the Senkakus as Diaoyu and Taiwan claims them as Tiaoyutai.
At a summit in Germany on July 8, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and Chinese President Xi Jinping agreed to make efforts to improve bilateral relations, which have often been strained by historical and territorial issues.
Bilateral tensions at sea have shown few signs of easing, however.