China Coast Guard Sets Worrying New Intrusion Records Near Senkaku Islands

China's coast guard vessels are setting new records in the East China Sea after Japan reported unprecedented levels of activity near the disputed Senkaku Islands in June.

Japanese maritime authorities logged fresh intrusions by China coast guard ships in the early hours of Tuesday, Tokyo time. A pair of marked law enforcement vessels sailed into the territorial waters of the uninhabited island chain between 3:05 a.m. and 3:10 a.m., according to the Japan coast guard's 11th regional headquarters in Naha.

The Senkaku Islands are also claimed by China as Diaoyu, and by Taiwan as Diaoyutai. Tuesday's incident was the 21st time Chinese coast guard vessels had entered the territorial waters of the Japan-controlled islands since the start of the year, public records show.

The intruding ships arrived just hours after another two Chinese maritime police vessels had set the longest intrusion duration on record, remaining in the waters around the Senkakus for 42 hours, Tokyo news agency Jiji Press reported on Monday.

The Japanese coast guard said the Chinese ships arrived around 4:40 a.m. Sunday and did not leave until 10:20 p.m. and 10:35 p.m. on Monday. During the record incursion, the China coast guard vessels sailed close to a Japanese fishing boat operating in the area before anchoring nearby, the Jiji Press report said.

On Monday, Japanese Defense Minister Nobuo Kishi called the actions "unacceptable."

Earlier in June, China's state broadcaster CCTV hailed recent coast guard patrols in the East China Sea after the country's maritime law enforcement agency broke the record for the most consecutive days in the waters around the Senkaku Islands.

According to Tokyo newspaper Yomiuri Shimbun, when four Chinese coast guard ships entered the contiguous zone outside the territorial waters of the islands on June 4, it marked the 112th straight day of the activity—the longest streak since the Japan coast guard began releasing relevant data in September 2012.

The record was broken with daily intrusions since mid-February, Jiji Press reported the following day. The previous one of 111 days was set between April 14 and August 2 of 2020.

"Diaoyu Island and its affiliated islands are China's inherent territory," China's Foreign Ministry spokesperson Wang Wenbin said at a daily press briefing on June 4.

"China Coast Guard patrols and law enforcement activities in the waters of Diaoyu Island are legitimate and lawful measures to safeguard sovereignty," he added.

This year has seen a marked increase in Chinese coast guard activity near the Senkakus and in Japan's territorial sea since the enactment of China's new Coast Guard Law. Japanese authorities have reported multiple incidents of Chinese vessels harassing and pursuing smaller fishing boats around the Senkaku island chain.

An undated reported by Japan's Ministry of Defense, released after the law came into effect on February 1, said the legislation includes "problematic provisions in terms of their inconsistency with international law."

The Coast Guard Law "applies to 'maritime areas under Chinese jurisdiction' and the airspace above them,'" the Japanese Defense Ministry paper said.

"Measures such as forcible eviction may be taken against illegal acts committed by foreign military vessels," it noted. "In cases of illegal infringement on sovereignty committed by foreign organizations or individuals in the seas, all necessary measures, including the use of weapons, may be taken," the ministry added.

Chinese officials have stressed the agency does not intend to fire upon foreign vessels in the East or South China seas.

On May 26, as Chinese coast guard vessels approached their incursion record around the Senkakus, a CCTV report said Japanese officials were "anxious" about the increased presence of Beijing's ships.

Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga and lawmakers from the ruling Liberal Democratic Party are said to be deliberating over provisions for a stronger response from the country's own maritime police agency, which is currently restrained by strict laws prohibiting the use of its weapons.

Suga and President Joe Biden were among G7 leaders who expressed serious concerns about the situation in the East and South China seas in a communique released after three days of meetings on June 13.

The strongly worded statement, which elicited protests from Beijing, said the leaders "strongly oppose any unilateral attempts to change the status quo and increase tensions."

The annual record for Chinese government vessels around the Senkaku Islands is 333 days, set in 2020. May's CCTV report said the record would likely be broken this year.

Newsweek has contacted Japan's Foreign Ministry and its embassy in Washington for comment.

Japan Coast Guard Vessel In Vietnam Visit
Japan coast guard ship Kojima anchors at Tien Sa port in Da Nang, Vietnam, during a five-day port call on July 30, 2013. Japan reported unprecedented levels of Chinese coast guard activity near the disputed Senkaku Islands in June. Vietnam News Agency/AFP via Getty Images