The two maritime survey ships were spotted by the Japanese coast guard 6 km southeast of the islands on the morning of 8 December. The patrol vessel issued verbal warnings to the two ships, which left the area several hours later. The coast guard said it was not clear what the Chinese ships did for about nine hours in the waters.
‘Japan immediately communicated a protest to China’s foreign ministry through diplomatic channels, and strongly requested that the ships promptly leave the territorial waters,’ said a foreign ministry spokesperson.
China has dismissed Tokyo’s protests, saying the ships were ‘justified in conducting usual patrol in waters within China’s jurisdiction.’
‘The Diaoyu Island and its adjacent islets have been China’s inalienable territory since ancient times. The activities of China’s marine surveillance ships are completely legitimate and undisputable,’ said Liu Jianchao, a foreign ministery spokesperson.
Japan annexed the island chain in 1895, saying no nation exercised a formal claim over them. The islands were administered by the United States after World War II until they were returned to Tokyo in 1972.
Japan declared the islands part of its territory when it took over Taiwan at the end of the First Sino-Japanese War in 1895. The US took control of the island chain after World War II, handing them back to Japan in 1972.
China and Taiwan renewed their claims to the area after scientsits confirmed oil deposits nearby in the 1970s. While the two nations dispute Taiwanese sovereignty from China, both agree the islands belong to the Taiwan province.
In June, Japan and China struck a landmark deal in June to jointly develop the disputed territory’s seabed resources. Estimated known reserves are a modest 92 million barrels of oil, yet the deal is important since the dispute had come to embody the sometimes bitter rivalry between the two Asian giants.