TOKYO (AP) — Japan protested to Beijing after spotting Chinese and Russian warships just outside its territorial waters around disputed islands in the East China Sea on Monday.
Japan’s Defense Ministry said a Chinese frigate sailed inside the “contiguous zone”, just outside Japanese territorial waters around the Senkaku Islands, which Beijing claims and also calls Diaoyu, for several minutes Monday morning.
The presence of the Chinese warship was confirmed about 40 minutes after a Russian frigate entered the waters for more than an hour, the ministry said.
It was not immediately clear what was behind the latest Sino-Russian military activity in the region. Japanese defense officials raised the possibility that the ships were there to avoid a typhoon.
Deputy Chief Cabinet Secretary Seiji Kihara said Japan had filed a protest expressing “serious concern” to Beijing over the incident.
“The Senkaku Islands are an integral part of Japanese territory historically and under international law. The government will handle the matter calmly but firmly to protect Japanese land, territorial waters and airspace,” Kihara said.
There was no violation of territorial waters, he said.
In Beijing, China justified the frigate’s entry and criticized Tokyo’s protest. Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian said the islands were Chinese territory.
“The activities of Chinese vessels in nearby waters are legal and justified,” he told a regular press conference. “Japan has no right to make such irresponsible remarks.”
Japan views China’s increasingly assertive military activity in the East and South China Seas as a threat to regional stability. Toyo is particularly sensitive to Chinese activities near disputed islands.
Kihara said Monday’s incursion into the contiguous zone, which lies between the territorial sea and the wider exclusive economic zone, by the Chinese warship was the fourth such occurrence since June 2016.
Associated Press writer Ken Moritsugu in Beijing contributed to this report.