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Senkaku / Diaoyutai Islands - Chronology

China has in recent years tried hard to establish a sphere of influence in the South and East China Seas. In December 1995, Chinese ships were spotted encroaching on the Senkaku Islands in the East China Sea.

Japan declared an EEZ (a zone of 200 miles or about 370 km around its territories) around the Senkaku Islands in June 1996 (taking effect on 20 July 1996). Incursions by Chinese oil exploration-related vessels, warships and ocean research vessels into the claimed EEZ around the Senkaku increased since that time.

In July 1996, a Japanese group's establishment of a lighthouse on one of the Senkaku Islands sparked a wave of anti-Japanese protests, especially in Hong Kong and Taiwan. Invasion of Japanese territorial waters and illegal landings on the islands ensued, and China lodged a vigorous protest. While maintaining its basic position that the Senkaku Islands are an integral part of Japan's territory, and that Japan in fact has effective control over these, Japan reacted to prevent the issue from adversely impacting the development of Japan-China relations. In the months following July, various matters related to the interpretation of history, such as visits to the Yasukuni Shrine, elicited strong responses from China.

David Chan, a colorful figure on the Hong Kong political scene, drowned 26 September 1996 after he and several other protesters jumped into the East China Sea when Japanese patrol boats blocked their protest ship. He became a martyr to a cause that stirred emotions among Chinese around the world. The ship Kien Hwa entered the territorial waters around Uotsuri Island in the early hours of 26 September, and then withdrew outside the territorial waters. Then, at 09:00 the same day, the vessel reentered the territorial waters. All the while, a patrol vessel of the Maritime Safety Agency repeatedly radioed warnings to the vessel to withdraw from Japanese territorial waters. At approximately 10:27 on the morning of 26 September, the same day, four individuals from the Kien Hwa jumped into the sea at a location approximately 3.3 kilometers north of the western tip of Uotsuri Island. By 10:40, all four individuals were taken back on board by the Kien Hwa. At that time, two of the individuals were in serious condition. Later on, at approximately 10:58, in response to a request for emergency assistance from the captain of the Kien Hwa to the Maritime Safety Agency, two personnel of the Maritime Safety Agency immediately boarded the Kien Hwa and administered a heart massage to one of the two individuals in serious condition, Mr. Chan. At 13:45, a doctor was flown in from Ishigaki Island to the Kien Hwa by a Maritime Safety Agency helicopter. In spite of all out efforts by the doctor, at 14:03 the individual was declared dead. According to the doctor, drowning appeared to be the cause of death. At approximately 11:13, the other individual, Mr. Fong, was transported to Ishigaki Island by a Maritime Safety Agency helicopter.

At the height of a period of increased political tension in mid-1996 between China and Japan regarding sovereignty over the Diaoyu/Senkaku islands, the Government forced longtime anti-Japanese activist Tong Zeng to depart Beijing for a 2-week trip to Gansu province. The Government imposed heavy ideological controls on political discourse at colleges, universities, and research institutes. In September 1996, for example, authorities closed computer bulletin boards at universities in Beijing when students began using the Internet to urge government action in defense of Chinese sovereignty claims over the Diaoyu/Senkaku islands.

During 1997 protest vessels from Hong Kong and Taiwan have continued to take actions such as venturing close to the islands. Chinese protestors landed on Diaoyu Island after clashing with Japanese coast guards in September 1998. The "Bao Diao Hao" was sunk after a collision in September 1998.

In early 2000 the new Electronic Reconnaissance Ship Dongdiao [hull number 232] turned up near the Japanese Coast. On 02 March 2000 a fleet of Chinese naval vessels was activating its training exercises in a central area of the East China Sea within Japan's exclusive economic zone (EEZ) off the Senkaku islets (or Diaoyu in Chinese) that belong to Ishigaki City in Japan's southernmost island prefecture of Okinawa.

In 2003 China together with Taiwan asserted their claims to the Japanese-administered Senkaku Islands (Diaoyu Tai) with increased media coverage and protest actions. On 22 June 2003 there was an attempt by protestors or some group from China and Hong Kong to land on the Senkaku Islands using a small fishing vessel. The vessel did not reach the Islands themselves and nobody got onshore. However, it did violate Japanese territorial waters. Therefore, the Japanese Coast Guard took appropriate action to send them out of Japanese territorial waters.

On 15 January 2004 patrol boats from the Japanese Maritime Self Defense Forces (JMSDF) allegedly attacked two Chinese fishing vessels in waters near the disputed Diaoyutai/Senkaku Islands.

Seven Chinese activists were arrested 24 March 2004 by Japanese police about 10 hours after landing on the main island of the disputed Senkaku Islands earlier in the day. This is the first time Japanese police have arrested Chinese nationals for landing on the islands, claimed by Japan, China and Taiwan. The landing prompted Japan to lodge an official protest with China, while Beijing expressed both concern and criticism over the arrests. Okinawa prefectural police, who have jurisdiction over the area, said they arrested the seven for violating the Immigration Control and Refugee Recognition Law. Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi tried to allay concerns that the arrests would have a negative impact on Japan-China relations, explaining: "It is necessary for both parties to handle the case in as calm a manner as possible." Japan's Coast Guard deployed about 20 patrol boats in an effort to step up security around the remote island chain. Tokyo said it would try to prevent more activist visits from inflaming a territorial dispute between the two countries. Chinese activists announced they would postpone a new trip to the islands.

On April 23, 2004 a member of a Japanese right-wing group rammed a bus into the Chinese consulate in in Osaka, western Japan, to protest China's claims to a group of islands at the heart of a long-running territorial row between Beijing and Tokyo. The bus, with the Japanese flag painted on its side, burned after it crashed into the Chinese consulate.

In July 2004 Japan started exploring for natural gas in what it considers its own exclusive economic zone in the East China Sea as a step to counter China's building of a natural gas complex nearby. Japan plans to survey a 30-kilometer-wide band stretching between latitudes 28 and 30 degrees North, just inside the border demarcated by Japan. China disputes Japan's rights to explore the area east of the median line between the two countries, which Japan has proposed as the demarcation line for their exclusive economic zones.

On 09 July 2004 a group of Chinese held a police-approved demonstration outside the Japanese Embassy in Beijing afternoon to protest Japan's "illegal" oil exploration activities in a disputed area of the East China Sea. The protesters, organized by Beijing-based organization called the Patriots Alliance Network, shouted slogans for about an hour, during which two embassy staff members came out to take the group's written statement.

Authorities in south China stopped 10 people from setting out for the Senkaku Islands on 19 July 2004 in another attempt to occupy the Japanese-controlled East China Sea territory the activists believe belongs to China. The Communist Party secretary of Sansha Town in Fujian Province sent more than 10 official vehicles to stop the China Federation for Defending the Diaoyu Islands from setting sail, said federation leader Zhang Likun, one of seven people who made it to the islands in March 2004 and sparked a three-day diplomatic row.

A 1,040-ton survey vessel of the Chinese navy was spotted 21 July 2004 in the EEZ some 40 kilometers west of the disputed Senkaku Islands both countries claim, and a 3,536-ton Chinese government marine research ship was found the same day in the EEZ some 340 km southwest of Okinodaito Island in Okinawa Prefecture.

Beijing announced on 19 October 2004 that it would engage in bilateral discussions with Japan to discuss conflicting claims over East China Sea oil exploration. The Japanese government suspects the gas wells being tested may cut into Japan's EEZ, and has demanded that China provide such information as the area covered by the projected deposits. China had not given a substantive response as of early 2005.

On 10 November 2004 a submarine, believed to be a Han-class nuclear powered vessel, spent two hours submerged in Japanese waters, near Taiwan. The incursion prompted Japan's maritime forces to go on alert for only the second time since the end of World War Two. Japan mobilized its maritime forces and chased the sub with destroyers and a patrol plane as it zigzagged submerged toward Chinese waters. On 16 November 2004 Japan said China admitted the mystery submarine was one of its own, and expressed regrets. Japan's Foreign Ministry said the message was conveyed by Chinese Vice Foreign Minister Wu Dawei to Japanese Ambassador Koreshige Anami in Beijing. Tokyo says Beijing told it the submarine was on a training mission, and for "technical reasons," it ventured into Japanese waters. Japan's trade minister says he believes that a Chinese submarine was linked to gas exploration by China in a remote island area claimed by both countries. Japan, China and Taiwan all claim possession of a speck of islands called Senkaku in Japanese and Diaoyu in Chinese. They are about 500 kilometers from Japan's Okinawa Island and 140 kilometers from Taiwan.

In mid-January 2005 Japan Petroleum Exploration Co. and Teikoku Oil Co. began talks with the Japanese government on plans to drill for natural gas in the East China Sea, near areas claimed by both Japan and China. The companies intend to merge their provisional concessions with those of two other firms they plan to take over, with test drilling slated to begin in the fiscal year that starts April 1.

On 09 February 2005 Japan announced that it had placed under state control and protection a lighthouse erected on the largest of the Senkaku islands. The 5.6-meter (18-foot) lighthouse had been erected in 1988 by Japanese right-wing activists to mark a claim to the island. The unexpectedly bold action by Tokyo prompted the Chinese foreign ministry to call the move by Japan " a serious provocation and violation of Chinese territorial sovereignty, which is firmly opposed by the Chinese government and people."

On 13 April 2005 Japan announced it had decided to handle applications of the enterprises the right to oil and gas test-drilling in the waters east to the ''median line'' of the East China Sea. Chinese Foreign Ministry responded that "In defiance of China's legitimate proposition, the Japanese side attempts to impose its unilaterally claimed ''median line'' on China. The Chinese side has never accepted and will not accept it. Japan's action constitutes a severe provocation to the interests of China as well as the norms governing international relations. China has lodged a protest to the Japanese side, and reserves the right for further reaction."

Setting foot on Pengjia islet as the first head of state from Taiwan to ever visit the nation's northernmost territory, on 10 August 2005 President Chen Shui-bian reiterated Taiwan's sovereignty claim over the Diaoyutai islands. Chen was accompanied by both Minister of National Defense Lee Jye and chief of the Coast Guard Administration Hsu Hui-yu. Taiwan fishermen held a large-scale demonstration in July 2005 to protest what they called unfair treatment at the hands of the Japanese coast guard.

The 26 September 2006 election of Shinzo Abe to the post of Japanese Prime Minister suggested a turn for the better in Sino-Japanese relations. Soon after, he was invited by Chinese Premier Wen Jibao for an official visit and China's state media lauded the meeting as a "turning point." Another meeting is scheduled for Although the Senkaku Islands are still disputed, any rapproachment between Japan and China is a step towards eventually resolving the issue.

In March 2009 Japanese Prime Minister Taro Aso twice referred the Senkaku Islands [Diaoyu Islands] as Japan's territory, saying they were protected under the Japan-U.S. security treaty. He made this statement during his trip to the United States as well as in the Parliament, the first time a Japanese prime minister had made such a remark.

On 27 February 2009, Japanese Foreign Minister Hirofumi Nakasone said the US also recognized Japanese jurisdiction over the Diaoyu Islands, where the Treaty of Mutual Cooperation and Security between Japan and the United States would apply. A U.S. State Department official said on the same day that the Diaoyu Islands were always under the administrative jurisdiction of Japan and the Treaty would apply to them.

On 02 March 2009, China's Foreign Ministry spokesman said "China has indisputable sovereignty over the Diaoyu Islands and adjacent islets which have been China's inalienable territory since ancient times. The Treaty of Mutual Cooperation and Security between Japan and the United States, as a bilateral arrangement, should not undermine the interest of any third party including China. Any attempt to cover the Diaoyu Islands under the Treaty is absolutely unacceptable to the Chinese people. We have lodged a solemn representation to Japan once again and urged the U.S. to make clarification over the relevant reports. We hope Japan and the U.S. can realize the great sensitivity of the issue with discretion in words and deeds and refrain from doing anything that may undermine regional stability or the overall interests of China-Japan relations and China-U.S. relations.

The Japanese government says it will strengthen security in waters around the Senkaku Islands in Okinawa Prefecture amid increasing activity by Chinese government ships in the area. The Japan Coast Guard says that Chinese government vessels in 2020 entered the contiguous zone outside Japan's territorial waters around the islands for a record 333 days. That was far above the previous year's 282 days. They were also spotted in the contiguous zone for 111 days in a row between April and August. That's the longest streak since the Japanese government nationalized the islands in 2012.

The Japan Coast Guard said a total of 78 Chinese official vessels entered Japanese territorial waters around the Senkakus on 24 occasions in 2020. The number of ships and the frequency of entries were lower than the previous year but the vessels stayed for a longer period. For instance, between October 11 and 13 last year, Chinese vessels remained in Japanese waters for a total of 57 hours and 39 minutes, breaking the previous record.

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Page last modified: 30-06-2021 11:38:51 ZULU