Senior Chinese military officials have admitted for the first time that a frigate locked its radar on a Japanese destroyer during the two nations’ row over the Diaoyutai Islands (釣魚台), Kyodo News reported on Monday.
In one of the more serious incidents in an escalating wrangle over ownership of the islands in the East China Sea, which are also claimed by Taiwan and which Japan calls the Senkakus, Tokyo said the Chinese vessel effectively had a Japanese ship in its sights earlier this year.
Meanwhile, three Chinese marine surveillance ships were seen entering the territorial waters extending 12 nautical miles (22.2km) off one of the islands at about 6:30pm, the Japanese Coast Guard said.
Kyodo reported that the vessels left the area by about 9:30pm.
State-owned Chinese vessels have intermittently cruised near the Tokyo-controlled islands since Japan nationalized three of them in September last year, at times inside territorial waters.
Beijing has consistently denied the allegation of the radar lock and has accused Tokyo of exaggerating the “China threat” in a bid to manipulate world public opinion against its giant neighbor.
However, Kyodo News cited unidentified senior Chinese military officials as saying the weapons targeting had taken place.
The officials, including “flag officers” — those at the rank of admiral — told Kyodo it was an “emergency decision” and not a planned action and was taken by the commander of the frigate, the report said.
The radar incident marked the first time the two nations’ navies have locked horns in the increasingly bitter island row.
The Chinese officials told Kyodo that on Jan. 30 the frigate and the Japanese destroyer were 3km apart in international waters, the report said.
The commander of the frigate directed his vessel’s weapons-targeting radar, based on China’s rules of engagement, without seeking instructions from the fleet command or navy headquarters, Kyodo cited the Chinese officers as saying.
Beijing has denied the accusations and the Chinese Ministry of Defence on Monday said the truth was “very clear.”
“The Japanese allegation of Chinese navy vessels targeting warships and airplanes of the Japanese Self-Defense Forces with fire-control radar does not fit the facts,” it said in a statement faxed to reporters.
A later statement from the Chinese navy carried by the Xinhua news agency said the foreign reports had been “maliciously concocted.”
The statement said the reports were “fabricated out of thin air” and were trying to damage the Chinese military’s image, mislead international opinion and win sympathy.