Chinese coast guard group enters Japanese territorial waters
By MATTHEW M. BURKE AND CHIYOMI SUMIDA | STARS AND STRIPES Published: May 9, 2017
CAMP FOSTER, Okinawa — Four Chinese government vessels — including one with what appeared to be a gun turret — entered Japanese territorial waters near a contested island group Monday, the latest in a series of challenges to Japanese sovereignty in the East China Sea.
The first of the four white-hulled and numbered Chinese Coast Guard vessels entered the 12-nautical-mile zone around Uotsuri, one of the Senkaku Islands, at approximately 9:34 a.m., said a spokesman for the Japan Coast Guard in Naha. The vessels stayed in the zone until about 11:35 a.m.
As of Tuesday afternoon, one Chinese ship remained on patrol in Japan’s contiguous zone, which extends 24 nautical miles from shore, the spokesman said.
Japanese officials declined to comment on their response to the incident — one of 43 similar incidents near the Senkakus this year alone.
The Senkakus are an uninhabited island chain in the East China Sea between Okinawa and Taiwan. Their nearby waters are resource rich and claimed by both Japan and China, which refers to them as the Diaoyu, as well as by Taiwan.
Boat confrontations and jet interceptions between China and Japan have sharply increased in recent years, spurring concerns that a miscalculation could lead to a conflict invoking the U.S.-Japan security alliance.
The majority view of international maritime law allows warships to enter territorial waters under the principle of “innocent passage” without prior notification, though China has not recognized this principle when U.S. and other ships sail nearby its controlled territories in the South China Sea.
Innocent passage precludes ships from using or practicing with weapons and several other actions that China claims the right to do near the Senkakus.
The United States has long declined to take a position on any future sovereignty settlement regarding the islands; however, President Barack Obama said during a 2014 visit to Japan that the security alliance that calls on the U.S. to defend Japan “covers all territories under Japan’s administration, including the Senkaku Islands.”
President Donald Trump reaffirmed this commitment in February during meetings with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe.
There were 121 incursions into Japanese territorial waters by Chinese government vessels in 2016, the spokesman said. The last incursion happened on April 24 when four Chinese patrol boats entered Japan’s territorial waters.
The Japanese government only counts official Chinese government vessels in the release of its numbers, not Chinese fishing boats, which also conduct operations near the Senkakus and are state-sanctioned.