TOKYO – Dozens of Taiwanese boats including six coastguard vessels entered territorial waters around bitterly disputed East China Sea islands on Tuesday, Japanese coastguards said.
“Tens of fishing boats entered the waters. They were accompanied by six Taiwanese coastguard ships,” a coastguards spokesman said.
The boats are part of a fleet that left Taiwan on Monday vowing to stake their claim to islands where they say they have ancestral fishing rights.
Their arrival and large-scale breach of what Japan considers its territorial waters will further complicate an already high-stakes confrontation pitting Tokyo against Beijing.
Japan administers the uninhabited, but strategically well-positioned, archipelago under the name Senkaku. Beijing says it has owned the islands for centuries and calls them Diaoyu.
Taiwan, whose coast lies around 200 kilometers (125 miles) from the islands, claims the Diaoyutai belong to it.
Ownership of the islands has become an important tenet of identity for all three claimants; the possible presence of energy reserves in the nearby seabed adds to the mix.
Relations between Japan and China have scraped long-unseen lows in recent weeks following Tokyo’s nationalization of three of the islands, which it bought from a private Japanese landowner.
Japan’s coastguard said Monday that of two of China’s maritime surveillance ships had spent seven hours in territorial waters around Uotsurijima, the largest island in the chain.
Two fisheries patrol boats briefly also entered the 12-nautical-mile zone around the chain, the coastguard said.
Four ships and one fisheries patrol boat were in contiguous waters as of 7:00 am Tuesday (2200 GMT Monday), according to the coastguard.