Chinese ships plied the waters of a disputed island chain yesterday, Japan’s coast guard said, while the Japanese prime minister warned that China’s behavior could damage its own economy.
The warning came after China dealt a diplomatic snub to Japan by postponing long-planned events marking the 40th anniversary of ties, as relations between Asia’s two biggest economies plumb depths not seen for decades.
Japan’s coast guard said yesterday that two maritime surveillance ships had spent seven hours in territorial waters around Uotsurijima, the largest island in the Japanese-administered Senkaku island chain, which Taiwan and China claim and call the Diaoyutais (釣魚台).
Two fisheries patrol boats also briefly entered the 12-nautical-mile (22.2km) zone around each island in the chain, the coast guard said.
The ships are not naval vessels; maritime surveillance comes under the State Oceanic Bureau, which is part of the Ministry of Land and Resources. Their roles include law enforcement in Chinese waters.
Fisheries patrol boats are under the aegis of the Chinese Ministry of Agriculture, and are responsible for policing fishing and marine resources.
The coast guard said nine other vessels were in the area, some in contiguous waters, an area under international law that extends up to 12 nautical miles outside a territory.
Japan’s top government spokesman, Cabinet Secretary Osamu Fujimura, said Japan has “protested strongly” through diplomatic channels over the intrusion.
The situation deteriorated on Sept. 11, when Tokyo announced it had completed a deal to buy three of the uninhabited rocks from their private owner, a bid commentators said was meant to outmaneuver the hawkish governor of Tokyo, who wanted to develop them.
However, Beijing reacted angrily and unleashed a firestorm of protest. Sometimes violent rallies followed, with Japanese businesses suffering vandalism and arson in several Chinese cities.
Celebrations have been held every decade and have never before been shelved.
The Japanese government yesterday described the cancelation as “regrettable,” with a spokesman saying the two sides should not let “an individual event affect ties.”
The two countries have wrangled since the 1970s about the islands, which lie on important shipping lanes and are believed to harbor mineral resources.
However, the latest dustup, which comes as China is in the process of a delicate leadership transition and as Japan’s political scene has become increasingly unstable, shows no signs of dying down.