Chinese vessels again enter waters near Senkakus

Only a day after China called off 40th anniversary celebrations with Japan because of the dispute over sovereignty over the Senkaku Islands, three Chinese ships have again entered to controversial waters.

The Monday move of the three ships into the East China Sea brought a rapid official protest from Japan, and sent diplomats scurrying to try and calm the air.  The move came only a day after China called off celebrations to mark the 40th anniversary of the normalization of ties between the Asia’s largest economies and as officials from China’s ruling Communist Party, due to arrive in Tokyo on Monday, cancelled their trip.

Two civilian surveillance ships were undertaking a “rights defense” patrol near the islands, said China’s Xinhua News Agency, citing the State Oceanic Administration, which controls the ships. One he Japanese Coast Guard noted that a fishery patrol vessel was also detected inside waters claimed by Japan, the Japanese Coast Guard said.  Japan said it had lodged an official protest.

Sino-Japanese relations deteriorated sharply after Japan bought the islands, called Senkaku in Japan and Diaoyu in China, earlier this month, sparking anti-Japan protests in cities across China.  “In recent days, China’s Xinhua News Agency accuses Japan, Japan has constantly provoked incidents concerning the Diaoyu islands issue, gravely violating China’s territorial sovereignty.”  Chinese officials say the ship patrols were intended to exercise China’s “administrative jurisdiction” over the islands. “Following the relevant laws of the People’s Republic of China, (the ships) again carried out a regular rights defense patrol in our territorial waters around the Diaoyu islands.”

A Japanese official says the Japanese Coast Guard ordered the Chinese ships to move out of the area, but received no response. In a move that could further complicate the issue, a group of Taiwanese fishermen said they planned to sail to waters near the islands this week to reassert their right to fish there. Taiwan, which China regards as a breakaway province, also claims the isles, located near rich fishing grounds and potentially huge gas reserves.

Japanese Vice Foreign Minister Chikao Kawai is visiting China this week to discuss Sino-Japanese relations with Chinese Vice Foreign Minister Zhang Zhijun, the Foreign Ministry said.  The latest flare-up in tensions comes when both countries focus on domestic political pressures. Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda’s government faces an election in months, adding pressure on him not to look weak on China.  At the same time, China’s Communist Party is preoccupied with a leadership turnover, with President Hu Jintao due to step down as party leader at a congress that could open as soon as next month.