Just days after Chinese and Japanese envoys met to try to ease tensions over the disputed Diaoyu/Senkaku islands, Chinese government maritime surveillance ships entered the disputed 12-nautical mile zone around one of the islands this morning at 6.30am, the South China morning Post has reported.
They were then joined by another surveillance ship after an hour.
This latest move seems out-of-step with more positive news regarding the islands dispute that has been appearing over the last week.
After surprise talks between Chinese and Japanese officials in Shanghai last week, the cancellation of a joint Japan/US military exercise to practice retaking an island, and the announcement of a meeting in Tokyo next week between Japan’s and China’s Vice-Foreign Ministers, the likelihood of a peaceful resolution had seemingly increased.
As Japan’s economy continues to suffer amid the on going islands dispute, and with China’s recent reassertion of its ‘peaceful development’ pledge, both clearly have an incentive to try to reach some sort of diplomatic solution before the issue gets out of hand.
Four Chinese government ships entered territorial waters around disputed Tokyo-controlled islands early on Thursday, the Japanese coastguard said.
Three maritime surveillance vessels entered the 12-nautical-mile zone around one of the islands in the East China Sea shortly after 6.30am, the Japan coastguard said in a statement.
Another surveillance ship joined them one hour later.
The four Chinese vessels were off Minamikojima, one of the islands in a chain known as the Senkakus in Japan and the Diaoyus in China.
Separately, two fisheries patrol ships were spotted in the so-called contiguous waters, which extend a further 12 nautical miles, of another island in the chain, coastguards said.
The two vessel types are run by different Chinese government agencies but are not military.
The ships refused to leave, saying the area was Chinese territory, according to Atsushi Takahashi, a spokesman for the coastguard’s headquarters in Okinawa, which has jurisdiction over the islands. He said it was the first time Chinese ships had entered the territorial waters since October 3.
Japanese Vice-Foreign Minister Chikao Kawai “strongly protested to the Chinese ambassador by telephone about the Chinese ships’ intrusion into Japan’s territorial waters”, the foreign ministry in Tokyo said in a statement.
In Beijing, foreign ministry spokesman Hong Lei said there was nothing abnormal about Chinese ships exercising jurisdiction in the area.
“The Chinese maritime surveillance vessels conducted routine patrols in the territorial waters around China’s Diaoyu Islands to safeguard the country’s sovereignty on October 25,” he said, according to the official Xinhua news agency.
Tensions have risen in recent months over the islands, which lie in rich fishing grounds. The seabed in the area is also believed to harbour mineral reserves.
After weeks of a sometimes bitter diplomatic stand-off over the issue, which has affected multi-billion dollar trade ties between Asia’s two biggest economies, senior officials were reported to be readying for further talks.
Arrangements are being made for a meeting in Tokyo next week between Japanese Vice-Foreign Minister Chikao Kawai and China’s Vice-Foreign Minister Zhang Zhijun to discuss the island dispute, the Mainichi Shimbun said on Thursday.
The meeting would follow unannounced talks in Shanghai last weekend, the Japanese daily said.
The two officials from Japan and China also met in Beijing in September.Originally posted on All Eyes East
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