Beijing: Sino-Japanese maritime tensions resurfaced today with Beijing sending three surveillance ships to the disputed islands in the East China Sea, days after right-wing leader Shinzo Abe won general elections in Japan and vowed to "stop the challenge" from China over the islands. Three Chinese marine surveillance vessels this morning entered the territorial waters around the islands called Diaoyu by China and Senkakus by Japan to carry out a patrol, state media here reported.
According to the State Oceanic Administration, the ships reaffirmed through a loudspeaker the Chinese government's stance that the islands belonged to China and asked six ships from the Japan Coast Guard to leave the area saying they "illegally entered the area".
"The fleet demanded they leave China's territorial waters around the islands," state-run Xinhua news agency quoted a statement from State Oceanic Administration as saying. A plane with Japan's maritime self-defence force and a helicopter from the Japanese media NHK were seen above the fleet, it said.
"The Chinese ships collected evidence of the Japanese ships and planes' infringement on China's sovereignty," it said. This is the first time after Japanese elections last week China resumed patrols around the contested islands.
Before the polls, China had for the first time sent an maritime patrol plane which prompted Japan to scramble its fighter jets. The Chinese plane reportedly left by the time the Japanese jets arrived.
The resumption of patrols by its surveillance vessels poses a direct challenge to Abe, who pledged to tow a tough line against China on the maritime dispute. Abe had said he wanted to "stop the challenge" from China over the islands, which till September this year were very much in control of Japan.
China, which has staked its claim all along has stepped its efforts after the previous government bough the islands from a private party which Beijing alleges amounted to nationalisation of the islands. Though China has sent its ships to the islands in the recent weeks, Japanese vessels refrained from taking action while closely tailing the Chinese vessels.