TOKYO – A Chinese coastguard vessel with what appeared to be gun turrets entered territorial waters claimed by Japan in the East China Sea, Japan’s coastguard said on Saturday, adding that it was the first such incursion by an armed Chinese vessel in the disputed area.
The vessel was formerly a Chinese Navy ship and is now operated by another department, according to the official, who asked not to be identified, citing government policy. The ship is armed with an auto-cannon, although the main armament has been removed, the official said.
The Japanese government formally protested the entry of an armed Chinese government ship and two other vessels into waters that Japan claims as its own on Saturday, according to an official in the Japanese Ministry of Foreign Affairs. This is the first time that an armed Chinese vessel has intruded into the areas that Japan’s claims as its territory, the official said.
The vessel was one of three that appeared in the waters off the disputed Senkaku Islands, known in China as the Diaoyus, shortly after 9:30 a.m. (0030 GMT) and left Japanese-claimed waters about 70 minutes later, a Japan coastguard spokeswoman said.
The vessel had first been sighted in the area on Tuesday afternoon and was sailing 29 km (18 miles) off one of the contested islands as of 9:00 a.m. (0000 GMT) on Wednesday, according to Japan’s coastguard.
At that time, China said its vessels were carrying standard equipment and doing nothing wrong in Chinese waters.
Chinese coastguard vessels sail regularly near the islets but the Japanese coastguard spokeswoman said none had ever been seen equipped with arms.
The dispute over the Japan-controlled islands has been a major sticking point in the two countries’ often contentious relations in recent years.
Reporting by Ayai Tomisawa