Japan says China coast guard vessel 1305, seen here in August 2019, appeared to be armed with a deck-mounted machine gun when it entered Japanese territory near the Senkaku Islands, Thursday, March 30, 2023.

Japan says China coast guard vessel 1305, seen here in August 2019, appeared to be armed with a deck-mounted machine gun when it entered Japanese territory near the Senkaku Islands, Thursday, March 30, 2023. (Japanese coast guard)

Japan complained to China again after a record-breaking stay by Chinese coast guard vessels inside the 12-mile territorial limit surrounding the Senkaku Islands, a small but significant international flashpoint between the two nations.

Four Chinese coast guard vessels spent 80 hours, 36 minutes without incident inside the limit from 11:08 a.m. Thursday until 7:44 p.m. Sunday, a spokesman for Japan’s coast guard told Stars and Stripes by phone Monday. Their stay surpassed their previous record of 72 hours, 45 minutes in December.

Japanese Foreign Minister Yoshimasa Hayashi “expressed concern over the situation” when he met Sunday with China’s Foreign Minister Qin Gang in Beijing, Hayashi said at a press conference afterward. The pair discussed several topics, including the recent detention of a Japanese citizen over espionage allegations, according to a transcript of Hayashi’s remarks.

The latest Senkaku incident took place during Hayashi’s two-day trip to Beijing and just ahead of the 45th anniversary of the China-Japan Treaty of Peace and Friendship, which aimed to normalize economic and political ties between the two countries.

“I expressed our serious concern over the situation in the East China Sea, including the Senkakus,” Hayashi said. “Also, I mentioned the importance of peace and stability in the Taiwan Strait.”

Some government officials in Japan are required to speak to the media only on condition of anonymity.

The Senkakus — five uninhabited islets and three rocks 105 miles east of Taiwan — amount to about 2½ square miles. China and Taiwan know them as the Diaoyu or Tiaoyutai, respectively, and also lay claim. The area surrounding the Senkakus reportedly holds a wealth of natural resources, including fish, oil and natural gas.

Tokyo will continue its appeals to Beijing for “responsible actions,” Japanese Chief Cabinet Secretary Hirokazu Matsuno told reporters Monday in Tokyo, according to a video uploaded to Prime Minister Fumio Kishida’s website.

“We will keep working hard to be able to communicate with China and build a stable and constructive relationship,” Matsuno said.

The Chinese ships were met by a larger contingent of Japanese coast guard vessels, according to the Japanese spokesman, who declined to provide the exact number. The Japanese ships positioned themselves between the Chinese and Japanese fishing vessels to prevent contact and warned the Chinese by radio and electronic message boards to leave the area.

One Chinese vessel, No. 1305, appeared to be armed with a deck-mounted machine gun, the spokesman said. Two of the vessels entered and re-entered Japan’s territorial waters.

The ministry complained to the Chinese Embassy in Japan and to diplomatic officials in Beijing on all four days, a ministry spokesman said by phone Monday.

It was the longest continuous intrusion into Japanese territorial waters around the Senkakus by Chinese government vessels since the Japanese government purchased the islands in 2012, the coast guard spokesman said.

This was the 11th intrusion by Chinese government vessels around the islands so far this year, he said. The last incident happened on March 24.

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Keishi Koja is an Okinawa-based reporter/translator who joined Stars and Stripes in August 2022. He studied International Communication at the University of Okinawa and previously worked in education.
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Matthew M. Burke has been reporting from Okinawa for Stars and Stripes since 2014. The Massachusetts native and UMass Amherst alumnus previously covered Sasebo Naval Base and Marine Corps Air Station Iwakuni, Japan, for the newspaper. His work has also appeared in the Boston Globe, Cape Cod Times and other publications.

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