Japan might station government workers on disputed islands in the East China Sea to defend its sovereignty, Japanese Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga said yesterda, raising the possibility of action that would inevitably anger China.
Relations between Asia’s second and third-biggest economies have been strained over the uninhabited Diaoyutai Islands (釣魚台), which Japan controls but are also claimed by Taiwan and China claim. The islands are called the Senkakus in Japan.
A year ago today, the Japanese government bought three of the isles from a private owner, inflaming anger in China where big anti-Japan protests ensued.
Aircraft and ships from China and Japan have played cat-and mouse in the vicinity of the islands ever since, raising fears that an accidental encounter could spark conflict.
The already-high tensions rose further yesterday when seven Chinese ships were spotted in waters around the islands.
The China Coast Guard flotilla is the biggest seen in waters around the island chain since eight government ships were tracked there in April, a Japan Coast Guard spokesman said.
Xinhua news agency, citing the Chinese State Oceanic Administration, said it was the 59th “patrol” of the area since September last year.
Xinhua said China’s vessels had gone as close to the islands as 0.28 nautical miles (0.51km) during the past 12 months, but did not specify when.
Japan’s coastguard said the vessels had entered Japanese territorial waters at about 10:30am.
Suga said it was “extremely regrettable” that Chinese government ships had repeatedly entered what he descried as Japan’s territorial waters.
The government of Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe was making “resolute, but calm responses to defend our territory, territorial waters and airspace decisively,” he said. “Our country will never make a concession on the matter of sovereignty.”
Asked if Japan might station government workers on the islands, Suga said: “That is one option.”