TOKYO: A lawmaker from Japan’s ruling party was aboard one of four fishing boats that sailed on Monday toward islands at the center of a bitter dispute with China, the organizer said, as Chinese vessels loomed nearby.
Japan’s national broadcaster said one of the Chinese maritime surveillance ships had been within a kilometer of the fishing boats, in an incident that could inflame a debilitating international row.
There was no attempt by anyone on board to land on any of the islands, which Japan controls as the Senkakus, but which China claims as the Diaoyus.
“The purpose of dispatching the fishing boats is to fish in the waters,” said an official from the nationalist Channel Sakura satellite broadcaster, adding the company’s president was aboard one of the boats.
“Most of the people on this mission are fishermen,” he said, but noted that Kenji Yamada, a parliamentarian and member of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s Liberal Democratic Party, had also taken part in the mission.
The Japanese boats had left the area by the afternoon, he said.
The incident passed off without confrontation but marked a change from recent months, which have seen regular forays by official Chinese ships into the 12-nautical-mile zone regarded as territorial waters.
It has become customary for Japan’s coastguard and the Chinese ships to exchange demands that the other side leave the waters, as part of a tussle between Tokyo and Beijing over ownership of the resource-rich islands.
A Japanese foreign ministry official telephoned the Chinese embassy in Tokyo to protest at the presence of the Chinese vessels, the ministry said.
The four ships made a circuit of the largest island in the chain before heading away, Japan’s coastguard said.