NAHA, Japan - Two Chinese coast guard vessels entered Japan's territorial waters near the Senkakus on Tuesday, a day after a Chinese naval ship was spotted near the China-claimed islands.
The Japan Coast Guard said the intrusion, the 15th this year and the first since June 23, happened around 4:35 a.m., adding that its patrol vessels ordered the two Chinese ships to exit the waters immediately.
The coast guard said the pair of vessels entered the waters near the group of uninhabited islets, claimed by China, in the East China Sea after following a Japanese fishing boat in the area.
The Senkakus, which China calls Diaoyu, remain a thorny issue in bilateral relations. Despite repeated protests from Tokyo, Beijing, which has also aggressively asserted territorial claims in the South China Sea, continues to send vessels to waters around the Japan-controlled islands.
Chinese vessels have now been spotted near the islands, including in the so-called contiguous zone outside Japanese waters, for 81 days in a row, according to the coast guard.
On Monday, a Chinese frigate sailed in the contiguous zone for about six minutes from 7:44 a.m., about 40 minutes after a Russian warship was in the area, according to Japanese Defense Ministry officials.
It was the first time since June 2018 that a Chinese military vessel had entered the zone near the Senkakus. Before this, a Chinese warship sailed in the zone three times, the first in June 2016 when it did so with Russian military vessels.
Japan protested to China expressing "grave concern" over the incident, according to the Foreign Ministry.
In Beijing, a Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman countered the protest, saying the islands have been "part of China's territory."
"The activities of Chinese vessels in the adjacent waters are legitimate and lawful. The Japanese side has no right to point fingers over these activities," he said at a press briefing.
Japan also told Russia through diplomatic channels that it is closely watching recent developments around the Senkakus, as Moscow and Beijing have been increasing their naval presence around the Japanese archipelago.
But Japan avoided protesting to Russia given that it does not lay claim to the islands and due to the Russian frigate apparently entering the contiguous zone to escape a typhoon, a Foreign Ministry source added.
FROM THE ARCHIVE