A Chinese balloonist has been rescued by the Japanese Coast Guard after coming down in the East China Sea short of his intended destination — a tiny island chain that's part of a territorial tug of war between Beijing and Tokyo.
"Xu Shuaijun, a 35-year-old cook, set out from Fujian province on Wednesday morning, aiming to land on one of the islets in the Japan-controlled [Senkaku] chain, which China claims as Diaoyu and Taiwan as Tiaoyutai, the Coast Guard official said.
"He sent out a distress call after encountering trouble near the islets in the East China Sea, the official said.
"A Japanese rescue helicopter found the balloon 22 km [13 miles] south of the chain and rescued Xu, who was unhurt, the official said. He was handed over to a Chinese patrol ship outside of Japanese waters."
The New York Times says it was Taiwanese authorities who alerted the Japanese to Xu's water landing.
"The Chinese vessel thanked the Coast Guard via radio for the rescue operation," the Japanese Coast Guard said.
There was no mention of Xu's condition after his rescue.
As the Times writes:
"Chinese nationals have occasionally attempted to land on the contested islands to press the country's territorial claims, with a group of protesters who set off from Hong Kong going so far as to plant a flag on an island before being detained by the Japanese Coast Guard.
"The attempted balloon landing and peaceful resolution came amid tension between China and Japan over their conflicting territorial claims, a recent visit by Prime Minister Shinzo Abe of Japan to a shrine seen by many as a symbol of his country's wartime aggression and China's announcement of an air defense identification zone that encompasses the disputed maritime areas.
"It was also a far cry from other recent doings in the similarly contentious South China Sea, where a United States Navy cruiser almost collided in December with a Chinese ship during routine maneuvers in the contested waters, raising new fears of military conflict."
The Senkaku/Diaoyu dispute has also led to provocative close-quarters maneuvers between Japanese and Chinese naval forces. The standoff grew particularly tense after Japan nationalized the islands in an effort to solidify its claim.
As we reported last year, the Senkaku/Diaoyu dispute is part of a broader, multination, array of claims and counterclaims in the East China and South China seas that threatens peace and stability in the region.
Last March, for example, Chinese forces fired on a Vietnamese vessel engaged in fishing near the disputed Paracel Islands in the South China Sea.