Three Chinese patrol vessels entered what Japan says are its territorial waters near islands at the center of a rift that prompted China to put off an event marking bilateral ties.
The three boats were spotted today close to the islands, known as Senkaku in Japanese and Diaoyu in Chinese, Chief Cabinet Secretary Osamu Fujimura told reporters in Tokyo. The ships left the area this afternoon, Japan’s Coast Guard said in a statement.
“We have protested this incursion at a high diplomatic level,” Fujimura told reporters in Tokyo. At least six Chinese patrol vessels in the area have entered the waters this month.
Japan’s purchase of the islands this month set off protests and attacks on Japanese businesses in China, harming a $340 billion trade relationship between Asia’s two biggest economies. Chinese Defense Minister Liang Guanglie said last week that his government reserves the right to take action on the East China Sea chain of islets, calling them “inherent Chinese territory.”
China yesterday postponed a reception for the 40th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic ties with Japan, the state-run Xinhua News Agency reported, citing an unidentified official from the China-Japan Friendship Association. The official cited the current situation for the delay, saying the reception will be rescheduled, Xinhua said.
The postponement “is extremely regrettable,” Fujimura said. “We should hold talks from a broader perspective and move toward a resolution.”
Japan dispatched Vice Foreign Minister Chikao Kawai to Beijing today to meet a senior Chinese diplomat, according to a Japanese Foreign Ministry statement. Kawai will meet with his Chinese counterpart Zhang Zhijun, Foreign Ministry spokesman Hong Lei said at a briefing today.
“The serious consequence of Japan’s illegal actions has shown in the area of trade,” Hong said. “China hopes Japan can return to the table of dialogue and negotiation.”
The dispute comes ahead of a generational leadership transition in China and as Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda faces pressure to call elections from an opposition that seeks a harder line against the Chinese government. In another sign of increasing tensions, China will deploy drones to monitor the disputed islands, Xinhua said.
Ties between the two countries may be at their worst since the 1970s, said Kunihiko Miyake, a visiting professor of international relations at Ritsumeikan University in Kyoto.
“This is the beginning of a new era,” Miyake said. “China is becoming more assertive.”
Japan, whose pacifist constitution limits its military activities, has used Coast Guard vessels to protect its territorial claims. Noda said last month the government will increase its maritime security and Japan has stepped up specialized training to help defend its outlying islands in case of invasion.
About 40 members of the Japanese military are taking part in the first joint island defense training exercise with 2,200 U.S. Marines that started in Guam on Sept. 18, public broadcaster NHK said over the weekend.
The U.S. last week reiterated its stance that while it doesn’t take a position on the sovereignty issue, the disputed islands are covered by a security treaty with Japan, a position China has rejected. U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta last week in Beijing called on both countries to resolve the issue peacefully.
Separately, a spokesman for fishermen in Taiwan, which also lays claim to the islands, said more than 100 boats would set sail for the area at 3 p.m. today to safeguard their fishing rights.