A total of six Chinese surveillance vessels entered on Friday the territorial waters of Japan near the disputed Senkaku islands, Kyodo news agency reported citing the Japan Coast Guard.
The move comes after Japan’s government announced earlier in the week a decision to buy three of the five disputed Senkaku islands, called Diaoyu in China, from the Kurihara family for 2.05 billion yen ($26.1 million). Japan’s public broadcaster NHK later reported that the government and the private owner inked a deal.
According to Kyodo, two Chinese surveillance vessels entered Japan’s waters at 6:20 a.m. local time and four more followed at around 7:05 p.m.
China’s Xinhua news agency reported that the vessels arrived at waters around the disputed islands for patrol and law enforcement activities to protect the country’s sovereignty.
“These law enforcement and patrol activities are aimed to demonstrate China's jurisdiction over the Diaoyu Islands and its affiliated islets and ensure the country's maritime interests,” Xinhua said citing a statement from the government.
The patrol vessels belong to the China Marine Surveillance, which is a paramilitary force and its ships are often carry weapons.
The disputed islands in the East China Sea, which are also claimed by Taiwan, lie on a vital shipping route and are surrounded by large hydrocarbon deposits beneath them.
Japan says it has controlled the islands since 1895 until its surrender at the end of World War II. The islands were controlled by the United States from 1945 to 1972 and subsequently returned to Japan’s control. China claims the islands’ discovery and control since the 14th century.
China and Taiwan started to lay claims on the islands in the 1970s when surveys showed the area was rich in hydrocarbons.