Chinese vessels maintain presence in East China Sea near disputed Senkaku islands for record 158 days

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Tokyo [Japan]: China’s Coast Guard ships have been in the waters surrounding Japanese-controlled islands in the East China Sea for a record 158 days, breaking the previous record established in 2021, reported CNN citing Tokyo’s most recent count.

Analysts worry that the uninhabited islands, called the Diaoyu Islands in China and the Senkaku in Japan, could spark hostilities between the two Asian rivals. “The Japanese government takes very seriously the fact that there has been a succession of vessels sailing in the contiguous zone and trespassing in territorial waters,” Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshimasa Hayashi said at Monday briefing in Tokyo, according to CNN.

Although foreign ships are permitted “innocent passage” through Japan’s territorial waters, the chief spokesperson for the Japanese government did not specify the frequency of Chinese ship visits. The Chinese Coast Guard hasn’t violated any international accords because foreign warships are permitted to enter contiguous zone seas, but their persistent presence there is viewed as provocative.

At a trilateral meeting with South Korea in Seoul on Monday, Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida reportedly brought up Tokyo’s “serious concerns” with Chinese Premier Li Gongmin, according to Hayashi. “We will continue to take every possible precaution and surveillance around the Senkaku Islands with a sense of urgency,” he said.

The network of uninhabited islands (Senkaku islands) has long been a point of contention in Japan-China relations.
Claims over the rocky chain, which is barely 205 miles (330 kilometres) from China’s east coast but 1,200 miles (1,900 kilometres) southwest of Tokyo, extend back centuries, and neither China nor Japan is likely to give up on territory that is regarded as a national inheritance in their respective capitals, CNN reported.

Beijing saw Tokyo’s purchase of some of the islands from a private Japanese owner in 2012 as a direct threat to its claims of sovereignty, which heightened tensions. In order to bolster its claims, China has regularly sent its Coast Guard and other government ships to the waters surrounding the islands.

Chinese forces are establishing themselves in two other East Asian hotspots, namely around Taiwan and close to features in the South China Sea held by the Philippines, which coincides with the increased Chinese presence surrounding the Senkaku Islands, reported CNN.

Following the swearing-in of Taiwan’s newly elected President Lai Ching-te–who is openly despised by Beijing for defending the island’s sovereignty and unique identity–China conducted its biggest military drills of the year last week. Taiwan has never been under Chinese authority, but the country’s ruling Communist Party claims it as part of its territory nonetheless, and it has threatened to annex the island via force if necessary.

Additionally, the China Coast Guard has been using water cannons to damage and injure Filipino sailors’ vessels as they attempt to resupply a contingent of Philippine marines on Second Thomas Shoal in the South China Sea.

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