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Chinese vessels maintain presence in East China Sea near disputed Senkaku islands for record 158 days

Chinese Coast Guard vessels have maintained an unprecedented presence in the waters surrounding the Japanese-controlled Senkaku Islands in the East China Sea for a record 158 consecutive days, breaking the previous record set in 2021.

The Japanese government has expressed grave concerns over the sustained presence of Chinese ships in the contiguous zone and instances of trespassing into territorial waters around the uninhabited islands, known as the Diaoyu Islands in China.

“The Japanese government takes very seriously the fact that there has been a succession of vessels sailing in the contiguous zone and trespassing in territorial waters,” Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshimasa Hayashi stated during a briefing in Tokyo on Monday.

While foreign ships are permitted “innocent passage” through Japan’s territorial waters, the persistent presence of Chinese Coast Guard vessels in the area is viewed as a provocative act, even though it does not violate international agreements.

During a trilateral meeting with South Korea in Seoul on Monday, Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida reportedly conveyed Tokyo’s “serious concerns” to Chinese Premier Li Keqiang, according to Hayashi.

“We will continue to take every possible precaution and surveillance around the Senkaku Islands with a sense of urgency,” the chief cabinet secretary warned.

The Senkaku Islands have long been a contentious issue in Japan-China relations, with both nations asserting historical claims over the uninhabited rocky chain located just 205 miles from China’s east coast but 1,200 miles southwest of Tokyo.

Tensions escalated in 2012 when Beijing perceived Tokyo’s purchase of some of the islands from a private Japanese owner as a direct threat to its sovereignty claims, prompting China to regularly dispatch its Coast Guard and other government vessels to the surrounding waters to bolster its territorial assertions.

The increased Chinese presence around the Senkaku Islands coincides with Beijing’s assertive moves in other East Asian hotspots, including near Taiwan and features in the South China Sea held by the Philippines.

Last week, China conducted its largest military drills of the year following the swearing-in of Taiwan’s newly elected President Tsai Ing-wen, who is openly defiant of Beijing’s claims over the self-governing island.

Meanwhile, in the South China Sea, the China Coast Guard has been using water cannons to damage and injure Filipino sailors attempting to resupply a contingent of Philippine marines on Second Thomas Shoal, further escalating regional tensions.

(Inputs from ANI)

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