Chinese coast guard ships yesterday sailed into disputed waters at the center of a bitter row with Tokyo, officials said, a day after China blasted Japanese lawmakers for visiting a controversial war shrine.
The four government vessels spent about two hours within the 12 nautical mile (22.2km) band around the Tokyo-controlled Senkaku Islands — which Taiwan calls the Diaoyutai Islands (釣魚台) and Beijing refers to as the Diaoyu Archipelago (釣魚群島) — in the East China Sea.
Japan said the vessels had left territorial waters by 12:30pm, but remained in the vicinity.
Following the incursion, the Japanese Foreign Ministry’s Asian and Oceanian Affairs Bureau Director-General Junichi Ihara lodged a protest with a senior diplomat at the Chinese embassy in Tokyo, Kyodo news agency reported.
Kyodo said seven ships were spotted just outside of the waters earlier yesterday, before the four Chinese coast guard vessels entered the disputed waters.
The incursion came after Beijing on Thursday summoned Japan’s ambassador to condemn a visit by nearly 100 Japanese lawmakers to the Yasukuni Shrine on the anniversary of Tokyo’s World War II surrender.
Japanese politicians’ visits to the site are seen as a slap in the face by neighboring nations, especially China and South Korea, which suffered from Tokyo’s imperialist expansion in the first half of the 20th century.
Yesterday’s incident was the latest in a series of incursions by Chinese ships as relations between Tokyo and Beijing plumb all-time lows.
Last week, the Japanese foreign ministry summoned Beijing’s envoy after Chinese ships spent more than a day in the disputed waters, their longest incursion since the long-simmering dispute erupted again last year after Tokyo nationalized some of the chain.
The islands — believed to harbor vast natural resources below their seabed — are seen as a potential flashpoint that some observers fear could lead to armed conflict between the Asian giants.