China's patrol ship "Haijian 50" patrols in waters near the Diaoyu Islands, March 16, 2012. The patrol by China Marine Surveillance, the country's maritime law enforcement authorities, was carried out by two patrol ships "Haijian 50" and "Haijian 66", which arrived in waters near the Diaoyu Island and its affiliated isles in the early morning of Friday. Authorized by the Chinese State Council, the State Oceanic Administration (SOA), the country's maritime authority, and the Ministry of Civil Affairs released standard names of the Diaoyu Island and its affiliated isles recently. Photo: Xinhua
China's Foreign Ministry on Friday defended recent maritime surveillance activities, describing the activities of patrol boats located near the Diaoyu Islands as "lawful," following Japan's accusation that China's patrol vessel "briefly crossed into its waters."
Foreign Ministry spokesperson Liu Weimin told a press briefing Friday that law enforcement vessels patrolled waters close to the Diaoyu Islands in the East China Sea to maintain the normal order and safeguard China's maritime rights and interests.
Liu also reiterated China's stance that the Diaoyu Islands and its adjacent islets have been part of China's territory since ancient times.
A statement posted on the official website of the State Oceanic Administration (SOA) said that a maritime surveillance fleet consisting of two patrol vessels, the Haijian 50 and Haijian 66, arrived in waters near the Diaoyu Islands at around 5 am on Friday for a regular patrol.
According to the SOA, after spotting a patrol ship of the Japan Coast Guard (JCG) in waters near the Diaoyu Islands in the morning, the fleet contacted the ship immediately, stating its identity and stance on the Diaoyu Islands. The Japanese ship didn't make any reply, but kept following the fleet.
The 3,000-ton-class Haijian 50, a heavyweight compared to the more commonly used 1,000-ton-class patrol ships, is China's largest patrol vessel. It is equipped with China's most advanced marine technology and is capable of accommodating the country's Z9A helicopters.
The SOA said that the fleet was still patrolling in the waters near the Diaoyu Islands.
"As the comprehensive maritime enforcement power affiliated to the SOA, the maritime surveillance authority safeguards our maritime rights and interests in accordance with the relevant laws and their duties," the SOA said. "The patrol mission embodies our government's consistent stance on the sovereignty of the Diaoyu Islands."
Japan's Kyodo News Agency reported that the Haijian 50 "briefly crossed into Japanese waters," citing the Okinawa Prefecture's regional coast guard office.
"We warned two Chinese ships not to enter Japanese territorial waters, but at 9:38 am the Haijian 50 entered Japanese waters and left after 25 minutes," Kyodo quoted the coast guard as saying.
According to local media, the Japanese government even set up an intelligence room at the Prime Minister's official residence following the incident.
However, Japanese Chief Cabinet Secretary Osamu Fujimura told a regular press conference Friday that Chinese vessels apparently did not enter Japanese territorial waters, Dow Jones reported.
Yang Bojiang, a scholar with the Institute of Japanese Studies under the China Institutes of Contemporary International Relations, told the Global Times Friday that the incident is the latest sign of aggravated frictions in the East China Sea between Beijing and Tokyo.
"Since 2007, Tokyo has accelerated its pace in making territorial claims and seizing resources in the East China Sea. As a result, Beijing has accordingly upgraded its counter action," Yang noted.
Despite escalating tensions surrounding the Diaoyu Islands, Yang said that the disputes should be settled through negotiations, given that neither Beijing nor Tokyo saw violent conflict as an option to resolve disputes in the East China Sea.
"China has always been open to ironing out the disputes surrounding the Diaoyu Islands through negotiations with Japan," Yang said.
According to Yang, the prerequisite set by Beijing for such negotiations is that Japan must recognize the existence of disputes surrounding the Diaoyu Islands, which it acknowledged in the past but denied after the 1990s.
"The ball is now in Japan's court. Tokyo should adjust its stance over the issue," Yang said.
Zhan Qixiong, a Chinese trawler skipper involved in collisions with two JCG vessels near the Diaoyu Islands in 2010, was indicted in absentia in Japan on Thursday.
The indictment was deemed "illegal and invalid" by China.
On March 2, Japan gave names to 39 isolated, uninhabited islands, including four in the Diaoyu Island chain, which drew strong objections from China.
On the following day, the SOA released standard names and descriptions of the Diaoyu Islands and its affiliated isles.
Agencies contributed to this story