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China sends ship with cannon-like weapon near Japanese waters for first time under new law

Senkaku Islands (Al Jazeera English/WikiCommons)
February 16, 2021

A Chinese government vessel armed with a cannon-like weapon entered Japanese territorial waters near the China-claimed Senkaku Islands on Tuesday for the first time since Beijing passed a new law that allows its coast guard to fire on foreign ships in waters it claims.

Two China Coast Guard vessels entered the waters near the uninhabited islands at around 4:15 a.m., the Japan Coast Guard said, joining two others that had been there since Monday. The two new vessels — including the ship armed with the cannon-like weapon — later approached a Japanese fishing boat that was being guarded by Japan Coast Guard patrol vessels.

The Japan Coast Guard repeatedly urged the Chinese ships to leave the area, and the two vessels that entered Tuesday morning later exited Japanese territorial waters at around 10:02 a.m., according to the Japanese government. As of 12:30 p.m., all four Chinese vessels had moved to the so-called contiguous zone just outside Japanese territorial waters near the Senkakus.

Tuesday marked the second day in a row that Chinese vessels had entered Japanese territorial waters near the Senkakus, which Beijing calls the Diaoyu.

Japan’s top government spokesman called the latest intrusions “regrettable” and the Chinese vessels’ approach near a Japanese fishing boat “absolutely unacceptable.”

“These activities are a violation of international law,” Chief Cabinet Secretary Katsunobu Kato said at a news conference Tuesday, adding that the government had protested to the Chinese side through diplomatic channels in both Tokyo and Beijing.

Beijing has justified its moves near the Senkakus by calling the waters in the East China Sea its “inherent territory.”

The islets sit in rich fishing waters of the East China Sea and are believed to be home to vast mineral and gas deposits.

China’s increased patrols — it has now sent vessels into Japan’s territorial waters near the Senkakus on seven occasions this year — and the passage of the new coast guard law have stoked concern of a possible incident in the waters.

The new law allows the Chinese Coast Guard to take “all necessary measures,” including the use of weapons, against foreign organizations or individuals that violate Chinese sovereignty or jurisdiction.

Asked if the latest incursion had signaled an escalation of the row by the Chinese side, a top Japanese government official demurred but said that Tokyo’s response would remain consistent.

Some in the ruling Liberal Democratic Party have pushed for bolstered measures in the area, including joint military exercises between the Self-Defense Force and U.S. military. But others worry this could give Beijing a pretext to even further ramp up its activities near the Japan-administered islands.

China’s coast guard falls under the purview of the ruling Communist Party of China’s Central Military Commission, the country’s top military body. The Japan Coast Guard, meanwhile, is legally bound by strict regulations governing the use of weapons, banning it from conducting military activities.

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(c) 2021 the Japan Times

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