On the fifth anniversary Monday of Japan’s nationalization of three of five Senkaku Islands in Okinawa Prefecture, Tokyo remains wary of Chinese intrusions into the surrounding waters that have seemingly become routine.
Beijing appears to be working to accumulate evidence supporting its territorial claim to the uninhabited isles, which are claimed as Diaoyu by China and Tiaoyutai by Taiwan, observers said.
“We are seriously concerned and will respond in a calm and resolute manner,” Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga told a news conference Friday.
Chinese intrusions into waters around the islands, situated in the East China Sea, rose rapidly just after their nationalization. Chinese government ships are almost a regular sight, though the frequency of sightings has declined lately.
In August 2016, a loose armada of some 200 to 300 Chinese fishing boats suddenly appeared near the islands, followed by repeated intrusions into Japanese waters by Chinese government ships.
In May this year, what appeared to be a Chinese drone was spotted flying around the islands. Not long after, in a program to introduce the achievements of President Xi Jinping, state-run Chinese television broadcast images of the islands that are believed to have been taken at the time.
In November 2013, China declared an air defense identification zone over the East China Sea in which the Senkaku Islands were included.
In fiscal 2016 ended March 31, Self-Defense Forces aircraft were scrambled a record 851 times in response to Chinese fighters approaching Japanese airspace.
At their first summit in November 2014, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and Xi agreed to reduce tensions over the islands. The two governments resumed talks on establishing a communication mechanism to prevent unintended clashes around the islands in January 2015, after 2½ years of suspension.
However, there is no prospect of the two countries reaching an accord to establish a communications channel during the talks.
Activity involving Chinese ships around the Senkakus has been relatively low-key recently.
“They are likely trying to avoid escalating the situation ahead of the Chinese Communist Party’s national congress in October,” a Japanese diplomat said.