, Japan, Sept 24 – Three Chinese government ships were in Japanese territorial waters off a disputed island chain on Monday, the coastguard said, in the latest salvo of an increasingly heated international dispute.
The move came a day after China dealt a diplomatic snub to Japan by postponing long-planned events marking the 40th anniversary of ties, as relations plumb depths not seen for decades.
It also came as Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda warned Beijing’s uncompromising stance could affect its economy and have knock-on effects on the wider world.
Japan’s coastguard said that as of 0200 GMT, two maritime surveillance ships and one fishery patrol boat were in sovereign waters off Uotsurijima, the largest island in the Japanese-administered Senkaku chain, which China claims as the Diaoyus.
The ships are not naval vessels; maritime surveillance comes under the State Oceanic Bureau, which is part of the Ministry of Land and Resources. Their roles include law enforcement in Chinese waters.
Fisheries patrol boats come under the aegis of China’s Agriculture Ministry, and are responsible for policing fishing and marine resources.
The coastguard said six other vessels were in contiguous waters, an area under international law that extends up to 12 nautical miles outside a territory.
Osamu Fujimura, Japan’s top government spokesman and chief cabinet secretary, said Japan has “protested strongly” over the intrusion through diplomatic channels.
Up to 14 Chinese government ships have been in the area for over a week, dipping in and out of contiguous waters.
Beijing sent vessels to the islands on September 11, the day Tokyo announced it had completed a deal to buy three of the uninhabited rocks from their private owner.
Commentators say the nationalisation of the islands was intended to prevent their purchase by the nationalist governor of Tokyo, who said he wanted to develop them.
But Beijing reacted angrily and unleashed a firestorm of protest, which also saw sometimes violent rallies rocking several cities, with Japanese businesses suffering vandalism and arson at the hands of rioters.