China plans to keep its ships near the Japan-controlled Senkaku Islands in the East China Sea for 365 days in 2024 as leader Xi Jinping has called for bolstering Beijing's sovereignty claim over the islets, sources familiar with the matter said Saturday.

During a rare visit by Xi on Nov. 29 to the command office for the East China Sea area of the China Coast Guard in Shanghai, the president pointed out the need for Beijing to "constantly strengthen" its efforts to safeguard the sovereignty of the islands, which China calls Diaoyu, the sources said.

Xi, who also heads the Central Military Commission, the highest national defense organization, commented on a bilateral row over the Senkaku Islands, saying, "We can only move forward, not backward. We will never let even 1 millimeter of our territory taken," the sources added.

File photo taken in September 2013 shows the Japan-controlled Senkaku Islands in the East China Sea. (Kyodo)

The coast guard has subsequently drafted a plan to keep the presence of its ships near the islets every day next year and conduct inspections of Japanese fishing boats in the sea area, if necessary, to boost Beijing's sovereignty claim, they said.

On Dec. 14, the annual number of days Chinese vessels were spotted near the Senkakus by Japan surpassed a previous record of 336, reported in 2022.

Xi's instruction came despite Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida reiterating "serious concerns" regarding the situation surrounding the Senkaku Islands at a summit meeting with the Chinese leader in San Francisco in mid-November.

Following the Xi visit, China Coast Guard Director General Yu Zhong held a meeting at the command office and decided to constantly dispatch its ships to waters near the Senkakus and allow more Chinese navy vessels to sail between Yonaguni and Iriomote islands in southern Japan's Okinawa Prefecture, the sources said.

Yonaguni is Japan's westernmost island with a population of around 1,600, located 111 kilometers from Taiwan, the self-ruled democratic island Beijing claims as its own.

The row over the Senkakus has been a long-term source of friction between the two Asian neighbors. Since Japan brought the islets under state control in September 2012, Chinese coast guard vessels have repeatedly intruded into Japanese waters near them.

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