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Wednesday, Sep. 26, 2012

50 Taiwanese boats intrude near Senkakus

Coast guard cutters deploy water cannons

Staff writer

About 40 Taiwanese fishing boats and 12 patrol ships intruded into Japanese territorial waters near the Senkaku Islands on Tuesday morning to assert Taipei's claim to the Japan-controlled chain.

News photo
Watery standoff: A Japan Coast Guard cutter (center) and a patrol vessel from Taiwan (below) fire their water cannons as an armada of Taiwanese fishing boats approaches the disputed Senkaku Islands in the East China Sea on Tuesday. KYODO

The armada further intensified the territorial dispute that has already seen ties between Japan and China deteriorate.

It was the first time such a large number of foreign vessels has intruded into the territorial waters since the diplomatic row over Japan and China broke out last month.

The Taiwanese fishing ships started entering waters near the islands around 7:40 a.m., and had left the area by midday, according to Japan Coast Guard officials.

The coast guard repeatedly sought to prevent the Taiwanese ships from approaching the islets by spraying water over them.

But the accompanying Taiwanese patrol ships responded to the warnings by announcing that it is their right to operate in Taiwanese territorial waters, according to the Japan Coast Guard.

There were no major clashes between the Japanese and Taiwanese maritime authorities, but officials confirmed that three Taiwanese patrol ships had fired their water cannons at the Japanese patrol boats.

"We'd like to do our best to conduct vigilance and monitoring activities," Chief Cabinet Secretary Osamu Fujimura said during a morning news conference.

Fujimura called for calm diplomatic reactions by both sides.

"(The issue) should be solved through a good Japan-Taiwan relationship. We'd like to respond in a level-headed manner," he said.

Taiwanese fishermen were reportedly concerned that their territorial claim has been overshadowed by the recent diplomatic wrangling between Beijing and Tokyo over the disputed islets.

On Tuesday in Beijing, Vice Foreign Minister Chikao Kawai met with his Chinese counterpart, Zhang Zhijun, for the first time since the nationalization was carried out to explain Tokyo's position on the issue.

The Taiwanese fishing boats carried banners saying they will defend Tiaoyutai, as the islands are known in Taiwan. In China they are called Diaoyu."Usually as many as 50 boats won't fish in one area at one time. It's clear they came intentionally to claim territorial rights over the islands," said Yasumasa Higa, 55, a fisherman from Ishigaki Island in Okinawa Prefecture.

The Taiwanese fishing boats left the port of Suao in northeast Taiwan for the Senkakus on Monday evening to protest against the nationalization issue and to assert their claims to fishing rights around the islets.

Around 6 a.m. Tuesday, Japan Coast Guard patrols spotted 50 Taiwanese fishing boats accompanied by 12 patrol vessels in the contiguous waters near the Senkakus.

According to the coast guard, the Taiwanese fishing boats changed direction around 10 a.m. and all of the fishing boats and the patrol ships left the territorial waters just before midday.

As Japan and Taiwan lack diplomatic relations, the Japanese government will lodge a protest against the Taiwanese action as a breach of the international law through the Interchange Association, Japan's de facto diplomatic office in Taipei, the coast guard said. The association, a body affiliated with the Japanese government, serves as the diplomatic contact point between Japan and Taiwan.

The standoff between Japan and China over the islets has developed into a major diplomatic issue between the world's second- and third-largest economies.

Numerous Chinese surveillance ships have entered maritime areas around the islets since last week, and some of them intruded into Japanese territorial waters.

At 9 a.m. Tuesday, four marine survey ships and two fishery monitoring ships belonging to China were cruising in the contiguous zone outside of Japanese territorial waters.

While Japan and China were set to mark the 40th anniversary of the normalization of diplomatic relations between the two countries this week, the ceremony to commemorate the anniversary has been canceled.

Information from Kyodo added.

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The Japan Times

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