The Senkakus are a small chain of uninhabited islands in the East China Sea that are controlled by Japan but claimed by China and Taiwan.

The Senkakus are a small chain of uninhabited islands in the East China Sea that are controlled by Japan but claimed by China and Taiwan. (Cabinet Secretariat of Japan)

New authority given to China Coast Guard ships to fire on foreign vessels believed to be encroaching on Chinese territorial waters is adding an edge to confrontations with Japan over the Senkaku Islands.

Two Chinese coast guard vessels on Saturday entered the waters around the chain of small, uninhabited islands administered by Japan and approached two Japanese fishing boats, a Japan Coast Guard spokeswoman told Stars and Stripes on Wednesday.

Meanwhile, another two Chinese vessels, one carrying what looked like a cannon, stood outside the 12-nautical-mile territorial limit around the Senkakus, the spokeswoman said.

Japan responded by sending coast guard vessels to protect the fishing boats and urged the Chinese to leave, she said.

Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin, at a press briefing Monday, said the Senkakus, which China calls the Diaoyu Dao, are its territory, not Japan’s.

“The Diaoyu Island and its affiliated islands are inherent Chinese territory,” he said. “The patrol and law enforcement activities by the China Coast Guard in these waters are legitimate and lawful measures to safeguard sovereignty.”

The weekend appearance of Chinese vessels near the Senkakus – the latest of hundreds of episodes in the past year – are the first reported since China enacted a law giving its coast guard authority to fire on foreign vessels.

The People’s National Congress standing committee passed the law in late January, according to the Reuters news service. It took effect Feb. 1.

Japan controls the Senkakus, 230 nautical miles west of Okinawa in the East China Sea, and purchased three of the islands from a private owner in September 2012. The islands are also claimed by Taiwan.

On Saturday, two Chinese vessels passed the 12-nautical-mile territorial limit at 4:52 a.m., the Japan Coast Guard spokeswoman said. They remained until 1 p.m., then left and joined two others in the contiguous zone that extends another 12 miles from the territorial limit.

The Chinese returned inside the territorial limit again Sunday and one vessel was spotted in contiguous waters Wednesday morning, the spokeswoman said.

Japan protested to China through diplomatic channels Saturday, Kyodo reported Tuesday.

Japanese Defense Minister Nobuo Kishi called China’s new law “absolutely unacceptable,” during a meeting Tuesday with U.S. Embassy chargé d'affaires ad interim Joseph Young.

Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga told parliament Monday that Japan “cannot tolerate the new law” and said it could "intensify tensions,” Kyodo reported Tuesday.

Japan’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs did not immediately reply to requests seeking comment by Stars and Stripes on Wednesday. Twitter: @MatthewMBurke1 Twitter: @HanaKusumoto

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Matthew M. Burke has been reporting from Grafenwoehr, Germany, for Stars and Stripes since 2024. The Massachusetts native and UMass Amherst alumnus previously covered Okinawa, Sasebo Naval Base and Marine Corps Air Station Iwakuni, Japan, for the news organization. His work has also appeared in the Boston Globe, Cape Cod Times and other publications.
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Hana Kusumoto is a reporter/translator who has been covering local authorities in Japan since 2002. She was born in Nagoya, Japan, and lived in Australia and Illinois growing up. She holds a journalism degree from Boston University and previously worked for the Christian Science Monitor’s Tokyo bureau.

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