China yesterday kept up the pressure on Japan over the disputed Diaoyutai Islands (釣魚台), known as the Senkaku Islands in Japan, sending its coast guard to the area following Beijing’s weekend mention of “war” after Tokyo reportedly readied to down its drones.
Four Chinese Coast Guard vessels sailed into the territorial waters of the islands yesterday morning, the Japan Coast Guard said, where they remained for about two hours.
The maneuver came days after China, in one of its strongest statements so far in an increasingly acrimonious spat over the islands, said that if Japan fired on its unmanned aircraft, it “would constitute a serious provocation, an act of war of sorts.”
“We would have to take firm countermeasures, and all consequences would be the responsibility of the side that caused the provocation,” the Chinese Ministry of Defense said.
Those comments, published on Saturday, came after Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe invoked support in Asia for a robust response to what he said was Beijing’s attempt to “change the status quo by force.”
They also followed reports that Abe had given the okay to a plan to shoot down drones entering Japanese airspace if they did not heed warnings to leave.
On Sunday, he told troops the “security environment surrounding Japan is becoming increasingly severe... You will have to completely rid yourselves of the conventional notion that just the existence of a defense force could act as a deterrent.”
Reports said that Japan scrambled fighter jets on Sunday for the third consecutive day, as Chinese military aircraft overflew a strait between two Ryukuyu islands. They did not enter Japanese airspace.
In Beijing, Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokeswoman Hua Chunying (華春瑩) said the flyover had been “in strict accordance with international law and international practices.”
“The relevant parties should not make a fuss about it. The repeated remarks on China by Japanese leaders are a provocation. This again shows the pretentious Japanese politicians are deceiving themselves with a guilty conscience,” she said.
Chinese ships have sailed into the waters around the Diaoyutais dozens of times since Japan nationalized three of the islands in September last year. Each time, they trade warnings and claims of sovereignty with their Japanese opposite numbers.
Customarily, they stay for a few hours and then move out into the contiguous zone, a band that, under international definitions, lies outside the 12 nautical mile (22km) territorial waters.
Tokyo’s top government spokesman, Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga, yesterday said: “It is extremely regrettable that intrusions into our territorial waters occur frequently.”