The Japanese Coast Guard said on Friday that the Chinese vessels entered Japanese waters in the East China Sea in the early hours of Tuesday and stayed to monitor a Japanese fishing boat operating in the area, before heading out Thursday evening.
At one point on Thursday, one of the Chinese vessels came within 1.9 miles (3 kilometers) of the Japanese-held Senkaku Islands, known in China as the Diaoyu Islands, well beyond the internationally recognized 12-mile (19.3 kilometer) limit that defines a country’s territorial waters, according to the Coast Guard.
The Japanese Coast Guard sent its own patrol vessels to the area and demanded that Chinese vessels immediately leave Japanese territorial waters, he said.
Such incursions are not uncommon in the disputed area. Tokyo and Beijing claim the uninhabited islands as their own, but Japan has administered them since 1972. Taiwan, which Beijing considers a Chinese province, also claims ownership of the islands.
Tensions over the rocky range, 1,200 miles (1,900 kilometers) southwest of Tokyo, have simmered for generations, with claims about them dating back hundreds of years.
Chinese officials have repeatedly argued that it is China’s inherent right to patrol the waters around the islands. On Friday, China’s Foreign Ministry and National Defense Ministry did not respond to requests for comment on the Japanese Coast Guard’s statement.
The latest incursion marked the longest period of time Chinese government vessels have been in the waters since 2012, after Tokyo purchased some of the islands from a private Japanese owner, the Japanese Coast Guard said.
Previously, the longest incursion was in October 2020, when a Chinese vessel stayed for over 57 hours.
The latest example comes amid growing friction between the two neighbors, especially as China views Japan’s relationship with the United States with suspicion.
Last month, Tokyo hosted a summit for the increasingly active Quad security group, made up of Japan, the United States, Australia and India. Beijing sees the group as part of US efforts to contain it.
Hours after the summit concluded, Chinese and Russian air forces conducted joint strategic air patrols over the Sea of Japan, East China Sea and Western Pacific Ocean as part of what the Chinese Ministry of Defense called it part of an annual military cooperation plan.
Earlier this week, Japan’s Defense Ministry said it spotted at least two Chinese warships and a supply ship in the Izu Islands, about 500 kilometers (310 miles) south of Tokyo. One of those ships appeared to be the Lhasa, a Type 055 guided-missile destroyer and one of China’s strongest surface ships.
The ministry said the group has been operating in waters near Japan since June 12.
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