A Japanese citizen holds up a sign protesting the Chinese government's claim of ownership of the Senkaku Islands in this undated photo.

A Japanese citizen holds up a sign protesting the Chinese government's claim of ownership of the Senkaku Islands in this undated photo. (Wikimedia Commons)

Beijing plans to keep ships around the Senkaku Islands in the East China Sea for 365 consecutive days this year to reinforce its claim on the Japanese-administered islands, according to a Japanese news agency.

Chinese leader Xi Jinping, during a Nov. 29 visit to a Chinese coast guard command office in Shanghai, highlighted the necessity to “constantly strengthen” Beijing’s claim on the islands, Kyodo News reported Saturday, citing unnamed sources familiar with the matter.

The Chinese coast guard then drafted a plan to have ships near the islands every day and “conduct inspections of Japanese fishing boats in the sea area, if necessary,” Kyodo’s sources said in the report.

U.S. Ambassador to Japan Rahm Emanuel lambasted the plan Tuesday in a post on X, formerly Twitter.

“On New Year’s Day [Chinese] leadership announced that they will keep ships in and around Japan’s Senkaku Islands for 365 consecutive days, quite the New Year’s resolution,” he wrote.

Asked for additional information or a source for Emanuel’s post, embassy spokesman Yuji Okui in an email Wednesday referred Stars and Stripes to Kyodo’s report, which did not mention a New Year’s address. A transcript of Xi’s speech released by China’s foreign ministry did not include remarks about the Senkakus.

Eight Chinese ships were spotted in the contiguous zone on Monday, and four were reported there Tuesday through Thursday, according to the Japan coast guard’s website. Chinese ships were spotted there on 352 days in 2023.

The Japanese government is aware of China’s plans through media reports but “it is not confirmed if the Chinese government officially announced such a plan,” a spokesman for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs’ China and Mongolia Division said by phone Thursday.

The spokesman declined to comment on whether Japanese officials are attempting to confirm the reports with Beijing or if Tokyo plans to lodge a protest. Some government officials in Japan speak to the media only on condition of anonymity.

“Japan’s position regarding the Senkaku Islands stays the same, and we will take a resolute response to any movement to change the status quo,” he said.

A spokesperson for Japan’s Ministry of Defense did not immediately respond to requests for comment Thursday.

The Senkakus are about 100 miles northeast from Taiwan’s northern coastline and about 250 miles west of Japan’s Okinawa prefecture. The islands are strategically situated near key shipping lanes, rich fishing grounds and potentially significant oil and natural gas reserves, according to the CIA World Factbook website.

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Alex Wilson covers the U.S. Navy and other services from Yokosuka Naval Base, Japan. Originally from Knoxville, Tenn., he holds a journalism degree from the University of North Florida. He previously covered crime and the military in Key West, Fla., and business in Jacksonville, Fla.
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Mari Higa is an Okinawa-based reporter/translator who joined Stars and Stripes in 2021. She previously worked as a research consultant and translator. She studied sociology at the University of Birmingham and Hitotsubashi University Graduate School of Social Sciences.

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