Eight Chinese ships entered Japan-controlled waters near an island chain claimed by both nations, a day before the first anniversary of Japan’s purchase of the territory that sparked protests across China.
The Chinese Coast Guard vessels left the area yesterday after spending several hours in what Japan sees as its territorial waters, the Japanese Coast Guard said in e-mailed statements. The move prompted Japanese Vice Foreign Minister Akitaka Saiki to summon China’s ambassador, Cheng Yonghua, to lodge a diplomatic protest, the Foreign Ministry said on its website.
“We will do everything in our power to protect the lives of the people as well as our territory, water and airspace,” Japan’s Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga said yesterday. Asked if that could include stationing public officials on the islands, he said that was “one option to be considered.”
China may have been sending Japan a message before today’s anniversary of Japan’s purchase of three of the five islands, according to Gary Li, a senior analyst for IHS Maritime in Beijing. The purchase, which Japan said was meant to keep the islands out of the hands of a nationalistic former Tokyo governor, damaged trade between Asia’s two largest economies and posed one of the most severe tests since diplomatic ties were established in 1972.
“This high level of deployment is telling the Japanese that the Chinese are willing and able to comprehensively cover the Senkaku Islands with various forms of surveillance, potentially backed up by military aircraft,” Li said, using the Japanese name for the islands. They are known as Diaoyu in Chinese.
Japan dispatched fighter jets on Sept. 9 when an unidentified aerial drone was spotted near the islands and also deployed jets on Sept. 8 after Chinese bombers flew in international airspace between two Japanese islands.
Japan’s Foreign Ministry asked China to refrain from sending unmanned aircraft near the islands, Kyodo News reported yesterday, without attribution. Suga said yesterday that Japan had asked China if it owned the drone, adding that Japan’s “basic everyday stance” was to remain alert in its sea and airspace.
Asked about the patrols yesterday, Foreign Ministry spokesman Hong Lei told a briefing that China is “resolute and determined” in defending its sovereignty, and that the activities are normal.
“One year ago Japan illegally purchased China’s territory,” Hong said. “It has grossly infringed upon China’s territorial sovereignty and caused great difficulty to China-Japan relations. We urge the Japanese side to face up to history and facts.”
On a visit to Beijing yesterday, James Miller, U.S. under secretary of defense for policy, said he told Chinese officials it’s “critically important” that the dispute not be addressed through the threat or use of force.
No formal bilateral summit has been held between Japan and China for more than a year. Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and Chinese President Xi Jinping only spoke briefly during a Group of 20 summit in Russia last week.
Japan also dispatched fighter planes on Sept. 8 after two Chinese H-6 bombers flew between its main southern island of Okinawa and Miyako about 280 kilometers (174 miles) further southwest, without entering Japanese airspace, the Defense Ministry said in a statement on its website on Sept. 9. China said the flight was legal and that it would continue such maneuvers.
Japan Defense Minister Itsunori Onodera described the flight as “unusual.”
Chinese naval aircraft recently went to the western Pacific for training in a “routine” operation, China’s Defense Ministry said in a statement on its website on Sept. 9. The move wasn’t targeted at any country and was in line with international law, the ministry said.
— With assistance by Henry Sanderson