'Armed Chinese ship near disputed islets'

It entered waters near Senkaku islands, Japan says, amid spying row

TOKYO • A Chinese coast guard ship which appeared to be armed with several cannon yesterday entered what Tokyo regards as its territorial waters near disputed islands, the Japan Coast Guard said.

The incident took place as Tokyo confirmed that the Chinese authorities had arrested a third Japanese citizen and detained another on suspicion of spying.

Japan and China routinely butt heads over ownership of the uninhabited East China Sea islets, as Chinese ships - mostly coast guard vessels - and aircraft have sometimes approached them to back up Beijing's claims and test Japan's response.

It was, however, the first time that an apparently armed Chinese coast guard vessel had "entered the territorial waters near the Senkaku Islands", the Japan Coast Guard said.

Japan administers the uninhabited islands under that name but China also claims them and calls them the Diaoyu islands.

Japan said last Tuesday that it had spotted the armed Chinese coast guard ship for the first time in the contiguous waters near the islands.

The ship was armed with an auto-cannon, although the main armament had been removed, an anonymous official from Japan's Ministry of Foreign Affairs said.

The same ship entered what Tokyo considers its territorial waters, with two other Chinese coast guard vessels without such equipment, at around 9.30am yesterday and stayed for about an hour, the Japan Coast Guard said in statements.

Last month, Japan said it spotted a Chinese naval intelligence ship operating near the disputed islands for the first time.

Relations between Japan and China hit a low after Tokyo in September 2012 moved to increase its formal control by nationalising some of the islands.

The countries - Asia's two biggest economies - have taken steps over the past year to improve ties, but relations remain risky.

Tokyo's top government spokesman Yoshihide Suga said last Friday that a Japanese woman, who had been detained in Shanghai in June, was formally arrested last month.

He also said that a Japanese man has been put under criminal detention after being held in Beijing in June.

In September, China said it had arrested two Japanese citizens for suspected spying.

A total of four Japanese are now being held by the Chinese authorities on suspicion of espionage.

"Japan does not engage in such (spying) activities in any countries," Mr Suga told reporters, without elaborating.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, BLOOMBERG

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on December 27, 2015, with the headline ''Armed Chinese ship near disputed islets''. Print Edition | Subscribe