A Chinese Coast Guard ship sails near the waters of disputed islands in the East China Sea on Sunday. Photo: AFP
China's top oceanic agency announced Sunday that two more Coast Guard ships are patrolling the waters near the Diaoyu Islands, a day after over 200 fishing boats and seven Coast Guard vessels were reportedly sailing in the region.
Analysts said the patrols are a routine measure to demonstrate China's sovereignty over the Diaoyu Islands, as ties between China and Japan have been further deteriorating in the past months due to Japan's meddling in the South China Sea disputes.
Although the State Oceanic Administration admitted sending only two more ships as of press time, Japan's Kyodo News reported on Sunday that 13 Chinese government vessels, an unprecedented number, are now patrolling the waters of the Diaoyu Islands - two joined Sunday morning and four in the afternoon.
"It's normal for China to send Coast Guard vessels to the Diaoyu area to safeguard China's fishing boats, as the Diaoyu Islands are an inherent part of Chinese territory," Lü Yaodong, director of the Institute of Japanese Studies at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, told the Global Times.
On Saturday, 230 Chinese fishing boats and seven China Coast Guard vessels were spotted near the Diaoyu Islands, according to Kyodo News. Some of the vessels appeared to be equipped with guns, Kyodo News cited the Japan Coast Guard as saying.
China has sent Coast Guard vessels to patrol the disputed area at least 20 times this year, according to the State Oceanic Administration's website. But experts say it's rare that hundreds of fishing boats would sail through the area at the same time.
Zhou Yongsheng, a professor at the Institute of International Relations of China Foreign Affairs University, said the act was meant to demonstrate China's sovereignty over the Diaoyu Islands and adjacent waters.
From Friday to Sunday, Japan lodged multiple protests to the Chinese Embassy in Japan as well as China's foreign ministry against the Chinese Coast Guard vessels' "intrusion," urging them to leave the waters immediately, according to the website of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Japan.
Responding to Japan's protests, Chinese foreign ministry spokesperson Hua Chunying said in a statement on Saturday that "the Chinese side is working to properly manage the situation in the relevant waters."
"We strongly hope that the Japanese side will honor its principled agreement with us, and deal with the current situation with a cool head instead of taking actions that may raise tensions or complicate things," she was quoted as saying.
Japan on Sunday also protested to China over a surface radar which they say was found to have been installed on one of China's gas drilling platforms in the East China Sea area, Kyodo News reported, citing a Japanese government source.
The source told Kyodo News that the radar is for detecting ships and not powerful enough for military purposes, although concerns remain that China may use it as a military outpost in the future.
"[Installing the radar] is completely normal for China. Japan has no right to interfere with what China is doing on its own drilling platform in Chinese territory," Zhou said.
China has drilling platforms and foundations near the "median line" between China's coastline and that of Japan in the East China Sea.
Japan drew the "median line" as a demarcation between the two countries. China doesn't recognize the demarcation, and has proposed applying the principle of the natural prolongation of a continental shelf.
This is not the first time that Japan has protested against China's activities on the East China Sea. Earlier this month, Japan issued its annual defense white paper, and devoted over 30 pages to "irresponsible remarks" on China's national defense and China's normal and legal maritime activities in the East and South China Seas, the Xinhua News Agency reported.
China's defense ministry expressed strong opposition to the report, calling the annual document hostile to the Chinese military and deceptive to the international community.
Lü said Japan is intentionally bringing up several issues on the East China Sea at the same time. "By hyping issues involving the Diaoyu islands, Japan is escalating tensions that are already engulfing Northeast Asia and impairing the region's security environment," he told the Global Times.
"It's becoming a pattern. Whenever Japan has domestic political needs, it will bring up the East China Sea issue to serve its interests," he said.