Chinese warships to become common feature around Diaoyus
Second visit since Japan purchased islands could be response to aggressive comments from Japanese candiates for prime minister
State media confirmed yesterday that a People's Liberation Army Navy fleet had patrolled waters near a disputed island chain in the East China Sea after finishing a drill in the western Pacific.
A front-page report in yesterday's People's Liberation Army Daily said four warships from the PLA Navy's North Sea Fleet had passed Yonaguni and Iriomote islands in Okinawa prefecture of Japan early on Monday to head to waters near the Diaoyu Islands, known as the Senkaku Islands in Japan, confirming reports by Japanese media.
The newspaper said the four warships - two Russian-built Sovremenny-class guided-missile destroyers, the Hangzhou and the Ningbo; and two missile frigates, the Zhoushan and the Maanshan - had patrolled waters near the Diaoyus after completing a drill in the western Pacific that started on November 28.
Japan's Kyodo news agency quoted the Japanese defence ministry on Monday as saying that the four PLA warships had patrolled near the Diaoyus for about 5-1/2 hours and then left. Xinhua said yesterday the four ships had returned to their base in Zhoushan, Zhejiang, yesterday morning.
It was the second time that PLA Navy ships have patrolled waters near the Diaoyus since the Japanese government bought three of the disputed islands in September.
On October 16, the North Sea Fleet sent seven vessels to conduct patrols in disputed waters to reinforce China's sovereignty claim.
Xu Guangyu, a senior researcher at the Beijing-based China Arms Control and Disarmament Association, said: "The PLA dropping in to waters surrounding the Diaoyus is aimed at telling the Japanese government and that outside world that the appearance of the Chinese navy there will not be an occasional thing but has become regular and normal.
"The patrol mission is also a response to some hawkish speeches made by two contenders for the Japanese prime ministership, Shinzo Abe and Shintaro Ishihara, and other right-wing activists on the Diaoyu dispute, especially Abe's proposal to make 'invading [Japan's] sea territory' a crime."
Beijing has reiterated that military force will be its last resort to solve territorial disputes with neighbouring countries. But it has been sending more civilian surveillance ships and fisheries patrol boats to waters off the Diaoyus since Sino-Japanese relations plunged in September following the purchase of the islands.
Kyodo quoted the Japanese coastguard in Okinawa as saying that two Chinese maritime surveillance vessels had entered Japanese territorial waters around the Diaoyus yesterday, adding it was the 15th time that Chinese government ships had entered the disputed area since September.
Meanwhile, Xinhua said a 5,800-tonne ship had joined the fisheries patrol boats and was charged with protecting the safety of Chinese fishermen and declaring China's sovereignty in the East China Sea.
The new vessel, Yuzheng 206, which began its maiden voyage in Shanghai yesterday, is China's biggest and most advanced fisheries patrol ship, it said.