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Japan protests Chinese boats in disputed East China Sea

US Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-MN) (L) talks with Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) during a rally with fellow Democrats before voting on H.R. 1, or the People Act, on the East Steps of the US Capitol on March 08, 2019 in Washington, DC. (AFP photo)
In this photo released by the 11th Regional Coast Guard Headquarters of Japan, a Chinese coastguard vessel sails near the disputed islands in the East China Sea on August 6, 2016. ©AP

Japan has lodged a strong protest with Beijing after some 230 Chinese fishing vessels and six coastguard ships sailed close to the disputed islands in the East China Sea.

In a statement released on Saturday, Japan’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs said its Asian and Oceanian Affairs Bureau had submitted the protest to the Chinese embassy in Tokyo, demanding that the ships leave the area immediately and “never enter Japan’s territorial waters.”

The move came one day after the Japanese coastguard spotted the Chinese vessels swarming around the contested islets known as the Senkaku in Japan and the Diaoyu in China.

“Japan can never accept activities by (Chinese) official vessels near the Senkaku islands, because it will unilaterally escalate the situation and raise tensions in the area,” the statement read, warning that “an escalation of the situation … could heighten tensions in the waters.”

Additionally on Friday, Japan’s Vice Foreign Minister Shinsuke Sugiyama summoned Cheng Yonghua, Beijing’s ambassador to Tokyo, to complain what he called intrusions into the country’s territorial waters.

Beijing is locked in a territorial row with Tokyo on an uninhabited yet strategically-important island group in the East China Sea. Ties between the two sides deteriorated after Tokyo nationalized part of the resource-rich islands in 2012.

Recently, tensions have increased in the region after a Hague-based court of arbitration ruled that China’s claims to sovereignty over the disputed areas in the South China Sea or its resources “had no legal basis.”

Beijing, however, has rejected the ruling in the case, which was brought by the Philippines.

Tokyo has no claims in the South China Sea, but it has urged Beijing to respect the court ruling.

In its annual defense review released last week, Japan slammed what it called China’s “coercive” measures in the South China Sea, warning that Beijing’s resolve to push ahead with its “unilateral demands” in the disputed waters could have “unintended consequences.”

Beijing claims nearly all of the strategically vital South China Sea which is also claimed in part by Taiwan, Brunei, Vietnam, Malaysia and the Philippines.

The dispute has at times drawn in trans-regional countries, particularly the US.

China accuses the US of interfering in the regional issues and deliberately stirring up tensions in the South China Sea.

Washington, in turn, accuses Beijing of carrying out what it calls a land reclamation program in the South China Sea by building artificial islands in the disputed areas.

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