The Japanese Coast Guard approach a Chinese Coast Guard vessel in Japanese territorial waters in this undated photo. (Japanese Coast Guard)
The Japanese government has lodged a protest with Beijing after seven Chinese Coast Guard ships – four equipped with “cannons” – appeared together last month in the waters around the disputed islets in the southern East China Sea.
The flotilla was spotted near the Senkaku Islands on August 30, a Japanese coast guard spokesperson told Stars and Stripes on Thursday. This was nearly double the usual contingent of Chinese ships patrolling the region and the largest since 2016.
“We consider this incident to be extremely serious,” said the Japanese coast guard spokesman. The “Japanese Coast Guard are always prepared with a force that exceeds them.”
Japan’s foreign ministry has lodged a protest against the incident with its Chinese counterpart, the spokesperson said. The spokesperson did not know when the protest was made or at what level.
Kyodo News first reported on the protest on Wednesday. A ministry spokesperson was unavailable for comment this week, the office told Stars and Stripes on Thursday.
The Senkaku are five uninhabited islets 280 miles west of Okinawa. They are controlled by Japan but claimed by both Taiwan and China, which calls them Diaoyu Dao.
China maintains an almost daily presence in the waters off the islands, according to the Japanese Coast Guard website. In 2020, Chinese-flagged vessels were spotted in the region a record 333 times, breaking the previous year’s record of 282.
On August 30, two Chinese ships were patrolling Japan’s contiguous area around the islands when five more arrived around 1 a.m., the coast guard spokesman said. Four of the ships were equipped with the âcannonâ deck. The contiguous zone is a strip 24 miles wide beyond the 12 mile territorial limit. Nations can exercise limited control over their contiguous areas, according to the United Nations.
Four of the ships, including one with a deck gun, then entered Japanese territorial waters at 2:42 a.m., the spokesperson said. They left 23 minutes later after being warned by the Japanese Coast Guard.
Some of the Chinese vessels attempted to approach five Japanese fishing vessels operating in the area but were prevented from reaching them by the coast guard, the spokesperson said. Chinese coastguard vessels often engage and harass Japanese fishermen in the region, he said.
Chinese ships remained in the contiguous area until 5:30 p.m., when three left, the spokesperson said. They further reduced their numbers three days later.
The Aug. 30 incursion remains the most serious incident involving Chinese ships in the region since 2016, when they dispatched 15 ships, the Japanese Coast Guard spokesman said. From August 7 to 9, three to six ships repeatedly entered Japanese territorial waters.
It is customary in Japan for some government officials to speak to the media on condition of anonymity.