Our Story Happens Here
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
Available On Air Stations
NPR News

Chinese Patrol Boats Stand Down In Islands Row With Japan

A squadron of Chinese patrol vessels has turned back from a tense standoff with the Japanese coast guard near a small group of islands claimed by both countries.

The uninhabited islands in the East China Sea, known to Japan as Senkaku and to China as Diaoyu, have been the subject of a decades-long dispute between Tokyo and Beijing.

As we reported earlier, Japan this week suddenly nationalized the Senkakus with a view toward purchasing them from a private Japanese individual who claimed ownership. Apparently the move was aimed at bolstering Tokyo's case for sovereignty.

China's Foreign Ministry confirmed Friday that its ships were in the vicinity of the islands, saying in a statement that:

"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."

The BBC reports (via Japan's NHK news service) that the Japanese coast guard issued warnings, causing three of the ships to leave immediately. The other three followed suit some hours later.

Japan summoned the Chinese ambassador and lodged a formal protest, the news agency said.

On a visit to Beijing last week, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton weighed in on China's various island disputes (it has several besides Senkaku/Diaoyu). She said, in essence, that it was a problem for China and its maritime neighbors to peacefully work out among themselves.

But the appearance that Washington is taking a hands-off approach has caused some consternation in Tokyo, Yoichiro Sato, director of international strategic studies at Ritsumeikan Asia Pacific University, in southern Japan, tells Time magazine:

"There is a perception in Japan that the U.S. commitment is ambiguous," Sato says. "If China thinks Japan will hesitate to respond, or that America will hesitate, that will embolden the Chinese. It's better that America sends a clear, explicit message now than have to respond to something worse later."

Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta could be in a position to make that reassurance, if not publicly, at least behind closed doors. He leaves on Saturday for his third trip in less than a year to the Asia-Pacific region and will visit both Japan and China.

Copyright 2020 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Related Content
  • Despite Beijing's claim of sovereignty over the islands, Japan has nationalized them as part of a deal to buy them from private Japanese owners.
  • Xi Jinping hasn't been seen or heard since Sept. 1, leading to speculation of an injury that might prevent him from assuming the presidency next month.
  • The man in line to be China's next President has missed a number of official functions recently — leading to speculation about his health. Xi Jinping who's expected to take over the presidency next month, has not been seen in public for the last ten days. Comments on Chinese microblogging sites suggested he might be severely ill, or had been injured in a car crash. However wire reports quoting unnamed official sources say Xi has injured his back while swimming, and is avoiding public events while he recovers.
  • Super typhoon Sanba is storming north toward the Korean peninsula. It's expected to clip the Japanese island of Okinawa and northeast China before losing strength and making landfall in South Korea.