A Chinese marine survey ship is suspected of carrying out an underwater survey in Japan’s exclusive economic zone without permission.

Kyodo News reported on June 8 that Japan’s coastguard detected the Chinese vessel Dong Fang Hong 3 operating off Okinawa in the country’s southwest. The ship was spotted about 73 kilometers (45 miles) north of Ishigaki Island after midday on June 4.

The Dong Fang Hong 3 was 90 kilometers south of the uninhabited Diaoyu Islands, about 400 kilometers west of Okinawa, which Japan controls and calls the Senkakus. However, China claims sovereignty over them.

The Chinese marine survey vessel was found using a crane to throw objects similar to observation instruments into the sea in Japan’s exclusive economic zone.

The Japanese side asked the vessel to stop its activities by radio.

Three days later, just after noon on June 7, the Chinese survey vessel retrieved and packed away the observation-like objects. Finally, it left the waters in the early morning of June 8.

According to the broadcaster NHK, the Japanese Foreign Ministry protested with China through diplomatic channels.

The ministry said that if Beijing conducted a maritime survey without Japan’s consent, it would be extremely regrettable. It also asked China to stop the survey immediately.

It’s the second provocative maritime action of Chinese marine survey vessels within Japan’s exclusive economic zone since March.

South China Morning Post cited analysts who said the latest incident was a test to gauge Japanese reactions.

Japan and China reached an agreement in 2008 to jointly develop natural resources in the area, but their territorial claims overlap, and the discussions were deadlocked over the details. As a result, the deal never came to fruition.

But China is ambitious about the surrounding waters. Japanese media reported recently that 17 Chinese drilling rigs are positioned close to the geographical median point between the two countries, though the actual border remains in dispute.

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