On Friday, the Japanese Coast Guard said that a Chinese vessel was conducting “unauthorized activities” in Japan’s exclusive economic zone (EEZ) in the East China Sea. The activity took place near the disputed Senkaku Islands, which Japan administers and both China and Taiwan claim as the Diaoyu Islands.
According to the Japan Coast Guard, the Chinese vessel appeared to be a survey ship. According to NHK, which cited Japan Coast Guard officials, the vessel was “dangling what looked like wire into the water, more than 150 kilometers off Taisho island on Friday morning.”
Per the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea, which both Japan and China have signed and ratified, coastal states are entitled to exclusive resource rights and other economic exploitation rights in EEZs, but all states are free to navigate through these waters.
The vessel’s crew was spotted one day earlier too and had reportedly told Japanese authorities that they believed they were in China’s exclusive economic zone. Japan and China have not delimited their final exclusive economic zones in the East China Sea, though talks have been underway since early 2012.
Friday’s incident comes shortly after a high-level trip by Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi to Japan to discuss bilateral matters. Wang and his Japanese counterpart Taro Kono held bilateral talks on regional issues and agreed to convene a summit between Chinese President Xi Jinping and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe.
On Thursday and Friday last week, the two countries also held the ninth round of high-level talks on an air and maritime crisis management mechanism.
Tensions between China and Japan in the East China Sea spiked in 2012, when the Japanese government decided to nationalize the disputed islets to prevent their acquisition by the nationalist former governor of Tokyo. In 2013, China unilaterally declared an air defense identification zone over much of the East China Sea.
In recent years, China has sent its own coast guard and People’s Liberation Army-Navy vessels to patrol disputed waters. These vessels have regularly entered Japan’s territorial sea and contiguous zone around the disputed Senkaku Islands.