Japan says two Chinese ships seen near disputed islands

Two Chinese ships were spotted near islands at the centre of a dispute between Beijing and Tokyo, Japan’s coast guard said, as diplomats try to mend ties after a bitter row.

A Japanese patrol aircraft saw an advanced Chinese fisheries patrol ship in waters near the island chain in the East China Sea around 8:25 am (2325 GMT) on Saturday, a coast guard spokeswoman said, before finding a second vessel 20 minutes later.

Japanese patrol ships repeatedly told the vessels not to enter Japan’s territorial waters, she said.

The coast guard later said the Chinese ships were cruising around the disputed islands, responding to the radio messages by saying they were on a "justifiable mission".

Both countries claim the potentially resource-rich islets, known as the Diaoyus in China and Senkakus in Japan, along with the nearby seas.

The latest dispute broke out in September and has brought ties between the Asian rivals to their lowest point in years, fuelling nationalist anger in both nations. Leaders are now gradually trying to mend relations.

Saturday’s maritime encounter came after a helicopter-equipped advanced fisheries vessel left Guangzhou in China for the East China Sea on a mission that could last 20 days, according to a report Tuesday by the state Xinhua news agency.

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