TOKYO – Two Chinese survey ships intruded on Japanese waters surrounding disputed islands in the East China Sea on Monday but retreated several hours after Tokyo protested to Beijing, Japanese officials said.
The Japanese coast guard said it was not clear what the Chinese ships did for about nine hours in the waters near the Japan-held islands, which are known as the Senkaku in Japan and the Diaoyu in China. The islands are also claimed by China and Taiwan.
Tokyo immediately lodged a protest with Beijing over the intrusion.
"Historically and internationally, the Senkaku islands are part of Japan. (The entry) was extremely regrettable," government spokesman Takeo Kawamura said at a news conference.
China responded to Tokyo's protest by saying it was checking facts, a Japanese Foreign Ministry official said on condition of anonymity, citing protocol.
The coast guard declined to say whether it had dispatched patrol boats to the disputed waters, citing security reasons. But it used radio warnings to repeatedly demand the Chinese ships leave, coast guard official Kazuya Ono said.
The territorial dispute over the islands is one of many that has strained ties between Tokyo and Beijing. The coast guard said it was the first time since 2004 that Chinese ships have entered waters near the islands.
In June, a Taiwanese fishing boat sank near the islands after a collision with a Japanese coast guard ship. Taiwan accused the Japanese of ramming the boat; Japan contended the Taiwanese captain was responsible for the collision.
Japanese authorities recently agreed to give the sunken ship's owner 10 million New Taiwan dollars ($300,000) in compensation.
Japan annexed the island chain in 1895, saying no nation exercised a formal claim over them. The islands, lying roughly midway between Okinawa and Taiwan, were administered by the United States after World War II until they were returned to Tokyo in 1972.
China says the islands have been part of its territory since ancient times.