TOKYO • Japan yesterday said it has told China that any foreign naval vessel entering Japanese territorial waters for reasons other than "innocent passage" will be ordered to leave by a Japanese naval patrol, signalling a potential escalation in a long-running maritime dispute.
Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga said Beijing was informed last November, after Chinese navy ships sailed near disputed isles in the East China Sea known as the Senkaku in Japan and the Diaoyu in China. He added: "Based on a Cabinet resolution last May, if a foreign naval vessel transits our waters for (purposes) other than 'innocent passage', we will order a sea patrol and take the step of having the Self-Defence Force unit order withdrawal,"
Under the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea, ships can pass through another country's territorial waters so long as it is not prejudicial to the peace, good order or security of the other state. This transit is known as innocent passage, The Japan Times reported yesterday. It does not permit navigation involving the use of force, information-gathering or propaganda activities.
Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Hong Lei, asked about the remarks, said Beijing was determined to protect its territory, repeating its standard line that the islands had been Chinese "since ancient times". "At the same time we do not want to see a rise in tensions in the East China Sea and are willing to appropriately manage, control and resolve the issue via dialogue and consultations," Mr Hong told a daily news briefing in Beijing.
Mr Suga's comments followed a Yomiuri newspaper report saying ships belonging to the Maritime Self-Defence Force, as Japan's navy is known, would be sent to urge Chinese naval ships to leave if they came within about 22km of the islands for reasons other than "innocent passage".
The tiny islands are under Japan's control, but the territorial dispute over them has been a major sticking point in the two countries' often contentious relations.
Meanwhile, the official China Daily yesterday said the coast guard was preparing to launch a new, large, armed vessel, which could be assigned to cover the South China Sea, where China has territorial disputes with several South-east Asian neighbours.
The 12,000-ton ship will be armed with a 76mm cannon and anti-aircraft guns, the newspaper said. Most Chinese coast guard ships are unarmed or only have water cannon. The ship and its sister vessel, also yet to enter service, are larger than two Japanese coast guard vessels which are the world's largest active coast guard ships, the newspaper added.