The Sino-Japan tensions over disputed islands in East China Sea flared up again as two Chinese maritime vessels have started patrolling the waters around them challenging Tokyo's administrative control, a report said today.
In a surprise move China's State Oceanic Administration (SOA) announced that a maritime surveillance fleet consisting of two patrol vessels, Haijian 50 and Haijian 66 started patrolling the waters of the Diaoyu Islands since Friday.
A Japanese ship which approached them didn't make any contact, but kept following the fleet, state run Global Times reported on Saturday.
Japan has reportedly protested to China over the deployment of patrol vessels asserting that they entered its sovereign waters.
Significantly, China has deployed its largest vessel, the 3,000-ton-class Haijian 50, a heavyweight compared to the more commonly used 1,000-ton-class patrol ships, the daily reported. It is equipped with China's most advanced marine technology and is capable of accommodating the country's Z9A helicopters, it said.
The SOA said that the fleet was still patrolling in the waters near the Diaoyu Islands. "The patrol mission embodies our government's consistent stance on the sovereignty of the Diaoyu Islands," It said.
The sudden move by China to deploy its ships, stated to be first time after December 2008, directly challenging Japanese vessels apparently caught Tokyo by surprise.
The 70 uninhabited islets, believed to be rich with oil and gas were under Japanese administrative control. According reports from Tokyo, the Japanese government had even set up an intelligence room at the prime minister's official residence following the incident.
The Chinese foreign ministry defended the move describing the activities of patrol boats located near the Diaoyu Islands as "lawful."
Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Liu Weimin told a press briefing on Friday that law enforcement vessels patrolled waters close to the Diaoyu Islands in the East China Sea to maintain the normal order and safeguard China's maritime rights and interests.
Liu also reiterated China's stance that the Diaoyu Islands and its adjacent islets have been part of China's territory since ancient times.
The Chinese move followed March 15 indictment of a Chinese trawler skipper whose vessel collided with two Japanese coast guard ships in 2010. He was indicted in absentia by the Japanese.
The Chinese skipper, Zhan Qixiong, 42, was indicted by court-appointed lawyers for wilfully ramming his trawler into one of the Japanese patrol boats as they tried to shoo the vessel away from the disputed Senkaku Islands in the East China Sea on September 7, 2010, Kyodo reported.
Zhan was briefly under arrest, but returned to China and is not expected to stand trial. If the indictment cannot be served within two months, it will be invalidated.
Yang Bojiang, a scholar with the Institute of Japanese Studies under the China Institutes of Contemporary International Relations, told the Global Times that the incident is the latest sign of aggravated frictions in the East China Sea between Beijing and Tokyo.
"Since 2007, Tokyo has accelerated its pace in making territorial claims and seizing resources in the East China Sea. As a result, Beijing has accordingly upgraded its counter action," Yang noted.
Yang said that the disputes should be settled through negotiations, given that neither Beijing nor Tokyo saw violent conflict as an option to resolve disputes in the East China Sea.
"China has always been open to ironing out the disputes surrounding the Diaoyu Islands through negotiations with Japan," Yang said.
The prerequisite set by Beijing for such negotiations is that Japan must recognise the existence of disputes surrounding the Diaoyu Islands, which it acknowledged in the past but denied after the 1990s.
"The ball is now in Japan's court. Tokyo should adjust its stance over the issue," Yang said.
Earlier this month China released standard names and descriptions of 70 of the isles in retaliation to similar move by Tokyo identifying each of them with names and perimeters