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China ships return to waters near disputed isles: Japan Coast Guard

TOKYO -- Chinese government ships returned to waters off disputed Japanese-controlled islands Tuesday, the coast guard said, a week after they last left and days after heated exchanges at the United Nations.

Four maritime surveillance ships entered the waters shortly after 12:30 p.m. (0330 GMT), where they remained for around six hours, ignoring demands from Japan's coastguard to leave.

“Patrol ships from our agency have been telling them to sail outside of our territorial waters. There has not been any response” from the Chinese ships, the agency said.

It was the first time in about a week that Chinese ships had entered the waters, following a lull in a diplomatic row over the sovereignty of the islands known as the Senkakus in Japan and Diaoyus in China.

Foreign Minister Koichiro Gemba said the Japanese government lodged an immediate protest with China over the latest case, telling reporters: “We want the Chinese side to exercise self-restraint.”

In Beijing, foreign ministry spokesman Hong Lei said China was “strongly unsatisfied” with moves by “Japanese right-wingers” to enter waters around the islands.

“If left unchecked, such provocative behavior could complicate the situation, and China is paying close attention,” an online statement said.

Official Chinese vessels repeatedly sailed into the archipelago's waters until Monday last week, defying warnings from Japan's well-equipped coastguard.

The islands lie in rich fishing grounds and on key shipping lanes. The seabed in the area is also believed to contain mineral reserves.

Last week Chinese and Japanese diplomats at the U.N. General Assembly in New York traded insults, with China's Foreign Minister Yang Jiechi accusing Japan of theft.

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