Japan said on Tuesday that it has told China that any foreign naval vessel that enters Japanese territorial waters for reasons other than "innocent passage" will be told to leave by a Japanese naval patrol, signalling a potential escalation in a long-running maritime dispute.
Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga told a news conference Japan had informed China of its decision in November, after Chinese navy ships sailed near disputed isles in the East China Sea known as Senkaku in Japan and the Diaoyu in China.
"Based on a Cabinet resolution last May, if a foreign naval vessel transits our waters for [purposes] other than 'innocent passage', we will order a sea patrol and take the step of having the Self-Defense Force unit order withdrawal," Suga told a news conference.
Suga's comments followed a Yomiuri newspaper report that said Japanese navy ships would be sent to urge Chinese naval ships to leave if they came within about 22 kilometers (12 nautical miles) of the islands for reasons other than "innocent passage."
The tiny islands are under Japan's control, but the territorial dispute over them has been a major sticking point in the two countries' often contentious relations in recent years.
Last year’s incident was the first time an armed coastguard ship had entered the area, a Japanese coastguard said.
China had responded to the allegations by saying it did not do wrong, adding the vessels were just carrying pieces of equipment.