Top officials in Japan are angrily denouncing an ongoing Chinese incursion in Japanese territorial waters, just off disputed East China Sea waters since Sunday morning.
They are said to be Chinese coast guard ships which have refused to relocate since approaching a Japanese fishing vessel three days ago, AP reports. The ensuing standoff has resulted in formal diplomatic protests lodged to Beijing by Japan.
Specifically the area includes the Senkaku islands, which has been the scene of multiple prior such standoffs between Chinese and Japanese vessels.
Japan's Defense Minister Nobuo Kishi called the situation “intolerable” and demanded that China “use self-restraint on any action that would escalate tensions.” He also said it's part of a “continuous attempt to change the status quo by force” in the disputed waters of the East and South China Seas.
China refers to the Senkaku islands as Diaoyu - which Beijing claims as its own. Local reports suggest the crisis may have abated by the Coast Guard ships finally leaving as of Tuesday night (local time); however, it's still being described as the longest breach of Japan's waters in almost a decade.
Japanese media recorded China's justification as involving 'routine patrolling':
Meanwhile, China repeated its mantra about the uninhabited islets, saying they are its "inherent territory" without elaborating on why the country's vessels have remained near the isles for such a long time.
In Beijing, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian told reporters, "It is China's inherent right to carry out patrolling and law enforcement in the waters of the Diaoyu Islands, and Japan should respect this," using the Chinese name of the isles.
The Japanese Coast Guard said the Chinese illegal incursion was for "a record length of time".
Govt. protests longest intrusion in Japan's waters https://t.co/S5DLIl5fJJ— NHK WORLD News (@NHKWORLD_News) October 13, 2020
Japanese media reports further that more possibly hostile Chinese vessels are in the area just off Japan's territorial waters.
"On Tuesday, the coast guard said it also spotted another pair of Chinese vessels sailing in the so-called contiguous zone outside Japan's territorial waters," notes Kyodo News of the latest development.
Taiwan is also in the regional mix of those laying claim to the contested islands, also considering the geographic closeness to Taiwan's coast.
Japan had ownership of the islands since 1895 until WWII. After its defeat by the United States they came under US post-war administration from 1945 until 1972, after which as the US ceded them to Japan as part of the the Okinawa Reversion Agreement.
China, however, claims to have discovered the islands going back centuries, but seems to have taken a more aggressive posture on the issue after discovery of potential undersea oil reserves there in 1968.