On May 8, the Japanese government lodged a protest with China regarding an incident in early May in which China Coast Guard vessels intruded into the waters near the Senkaku Islands (Ishigaki City, Okinawa Prefecture) and pursued a Japanese fishing boat. Despite this, Chinese public ships later followed the Japanese fishing boat for two more days, the Sankei Shimbun learned on May 24. When the Japanese fishing boat was sailing toward Yonaguni Island (Yonaguni Town, Okinawa Prefecture) on May 10, Chinese public vessels chased it for about 45 km outside Japan’s territorial waters. This was disclosed by sources connected with the government as well as the captain of the fishing boat. The government is analyzing the series of incidents seeing them as peculiar behavior on the part of China.
According to the Japan Coast Guard and others, four Chinese public vessels intruded into Japan’s territorial waters one after another around 4:00 p.m. on May 8 while they were sailing in the vicinity of the Senkaku Islands. Two of the four Chinese ships approached the Zuihomaru, a Japanese fishing boat hailing from Yonaguni Island (Captain Kazushi Kinjo, 48), and started chasing the fishing boat. Following instructions from the Japan Coast Guard, the Japanese fishing boat left Japan’s territorial waters. On May 8, the Japanese government lodged a protest with the Chinese government through multiple channels.
The Zuihomaru was not only chased on May 8; it was also pursued and watched for two days from May 9. When the fishing boat returned to Japan’s territorial waters on that day, Chinese public vessels appeared again and chased it. The Chinese ships ordered the Japanese boat to leave the area by displaying “Leave” on an electric signboard and approached the boat drawing as close as about 30 m from it at one point. The Chinese vessels remained in Japan’s territorial waters for about 26 hours. The Zuihomaru finished fishing around 7:00 p.m. on May 10 and headed toward Yonaguni Island, but the Chinese ships reportedly continued following the boat until 0:00 a.m. on May 11.
When ordering the Japanese fishing boat to leave the area, the Chinese vessels did not use a radio, loudspeaker, or water cannon. None of the three members of the fishing boat’s crew were injured.
The actions of the Chinese public vessels are thought to have been intended to rattle Japan’s effective control of the Senkaku Islands and the surrounding territorial waters. At a press conference on May 11, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Zhao Lijian insisted: “(A Japanese fishing boat) was illegally operating in China’s territorial waters. We hope Japan will not instigate new trouble in connection with the issue of Diaoyu (the Chinese name of the Senkaku Islands).” China may also have been trying to take advantage of the spread of the novel coronavirus to enhance its presence in the vicinity of the Senkaku Islands.
In May last year, a similar incident occurred in which Chinese public vessels pursued a Japanese fishing boat. Ishigaki City Assembly member Hitoshi Nakama, 70, who was aboard the fishing boat at that time, said in response to the Sankei Shimbun’s inquiry, “One of the Chinese public vessels tried to lower a boat, which I took as a threat that it would capture us if we did not follow China’s order to leave the area.”