This handout picture taken by Japan's Joint Staff on Jan. 7 shows a Chinese government plane flying over international waters near the disputed islets known as the Senkaku Islands in Japan and Diaoyu Islands in China, in the East China Sea. (AFP)
TOKYO — Japan’s defense minister vowed Sunday to defend the country’s territory as three Chinese government ships entered disputed waters off Tokyo-controlled islands in the East China Sea, the first such incident this year.
The Chinese coast guard vessels sailed into the 12-nautical-mile territorial waters at about 8:30 am (2330 GMT Saturday) off one of the Senkaku islands, which China also claims and calls the Diaoyus, Japan’s coastguard said. They left less than two hours later.
“We can never overlook repeated incursions into territorial waters,” Japanese Defence Minister Itsunori Onodera told reporters.
“We need to make diplomatic efforts on one hand. We also want to firmly defend our country’s territorial sea and land with the Self-Defence Forces cooperating with the Coast Guard,” he added.
Chinese state-owned ships and aircraft have approached the Senkakus on and off to demonstrate Beijing’s territorial claims, especially after Japan nationalized some of the islands in September 2012.
It was the first time Chinese ships had been spotted since Dec. 29 when three coast guard ships entered the zone and stayed for around three hours, the Japan Coast Guard said.
Japanese coast guard patrol boats have tried to chase Chinese vessels away, fueling tensions which some fear could spiral out of control into an armed clash.
Japan’s conservative Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has vowed no compromise on the sovereignty of the islands and recently announced a boost in military spending to beef-up the nation’s defense.