Diaoyu Islands

Japan protests after Chinese ships enter Diaoyu waters again

Tokyo lodges a diplomatic protest after four vessels enter disputed waters again

PUBLISHED : Friday, 26 October, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 26 October, 2012, 4:32am

Japan yesterday lodged its first diplomatic protest with China in more than three weeks, after the Japanese coastguard spotted Chinese ships in waters near a group of disputed islands in the East China Sea.

The protest came as Tokyo and Beijing were reportedly preparing for talks on the dispute, which has damaged relations and affected trade between the two countries.

The Japanese coastguard said three Chinese maritime surveillance vessels moved into waters near Minamikojima, known as Nan Xiaodao in China, early yesterday morning. It is one of the five main islets of the Diaoyu Islands, known as the Senkakus in Japan.

Another Chinese maritime surveillance vessel entered Japan's territorial waters an hour later, the coastguard said. The four vessels remained for more than seven hours before moving out to the contiguous waters, a band that stretches a further 12 nautical miles from shore.

This is the first time since October 3 that Chinese surveillance vessels have entered the 12-nautical-mile zone around the Diaoyu Islands. The earlier incident also triggered a diplomatic protest from Tokyo.

Japan's deputy foreign minister, Chikao Kawai, "strongly protested" to China's ambassador in Tokyo, Cheng Yonghua , about yesterday's incident, but Cheng rejected the protest, China News Service reported.

China responded strongly in a signal that it still wants to appear firm in handling the dispute despite showing a willingness to ease tensions by engaging in bilateral talks ahead of next month's Communist Party congress that will unveil China's next leadership line-up.

"The Chinese maritime surveillance vessels conducted routine patrols in the territorial waters around China's Diaoyu Islands to safeguard the country's sovereignty," Foreign Ministry spokesman Hong Lei said. The Ministry of National Defence also said China would continue with military drills around the disputed islands.

"This is … definitely not the last time for the Chinese military to stage drills," ministry spokesman Yang Yujun said.

The heated exchanges between the two countries came as arrangements were being made for a meeting in Tokyo next week between Kawai and his Chinese counterpart, Zhang Zhijun , to discuss the row, Japan's Mainichi Shimbun reported. The two met secretly in Shanghai over the weekend.

Mainland analysts said the two countries wanted to contain rising tensions and avoid complications ahead of the politically sensitive party congress, which will start on November 8, but that at the same time, Beijing does not want to be perceived as weak.

"Beijing is telling Tokyo that its determination [to defend its territorial rights] should not be questioned ahead of the talks," said Zhou Yongsheng , an expert in Japanese affairs at China Foreign Affairs University.

Agence France-Presse, Associated Press