The Diaoyu Islands are a group of uninhabited islands located roughly due east of mainland China, northeast of Taiwan, west of Okinawa Island, and north of the southwestern end of the Ryukyu Islands. They are currently controlled by Japan, which calls them Senkaku Islands. Both China and Taiwan claim sovereignty over the islands.
Beijing sends ships to Diaoyus for first time since Japanese elections
China sent its ships into waters around the Diaoyu Islands in the East China Sea yesterday, the first such move since Japan elected a new government.
The action is a setback to hopes in Tokyo that Beijing might use the poll as a chance for a fresh start after months of bitter wrangling and rhetoric over an issue that neither side is prepared to budge on.
Japan's coastguard said three surveillance vessels were inside the 12-nautical-mile band around the Tokyo-controlled islands, which Japan calls the Senkakus. A fisheries patrol ship was logged in adjacent waters.
China has sent ships into the islands' waters 19 times since Japan nationalised the chain in September, according to a coastguard tally, with analysts saying Beijing intends to prove it can come and go as it pleases in the area.
The ante was upped last week when a Chinese plane overflew the area. Japan said it was the first time China had breached its airspace since at least 1958. Tokyo scrambled fighter jets in response.
But the State Oceanic Administration vessels have remained outside the archipelago's territorial waters since Sunday's election, in which the hawkish Shinzo Abe swept to power vowing a tough line on China.
In one of his first broadcast interviews after the poll win, he said there was no room for compromise in the row and put the onus for improved relations on Beijing.
"Japan and China need to share the recognition that having good relations is in the national interests of both countries," he said. "China lacks this recognition a little bit. I want them to think anew about mutually beneficial strategic relations."
Yesterday's return to the pre-election pattern is a sign Beijing "doesn't want to compromise and wants to keep the pressure" up, said Robert Dujarric, director of Temple University Japan's Institute of Contemporary Asian Studies.
"It shows that Beijing wants to continue the confrontation. A new prime minister always opens up the possibility of 'hitting the restart button', but clearly Beijing is not interested in improving relations."
Abe has pushed an agenda that includes upgrading the country's "Self Defence Forces" to make them a full-scale military and wanting to revise Japan's pacifist constitution.
But analysts have said at least some of this could be posturing.
They point to the pragmatism of his earlier 2006-2007 tenure as prime minister, when his opinions on controversial issues that could aggravate China were ambiguous or left unsaid.
As premier he stayed away from Yasukuni Shrine, which honours Japan's war dead, including war criminals, and is a running sore in Tokyo's relations with its neighbours.
Abe also made China his first foreign destination.
Following his victory, he said rebuilding Japan's alliance with Washington would be his top foreign-policy goal. Despite warm words about the importance of economic ties with Beijing, China is Japan's biggest trading partner - Abe stressed the need to build relations with other countries - such as India and Australia.