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Coast Guard, Japan ships spar in waters off Diaoyutai Islands

TAIPEI--Coast guard vessels from Taiwan and Japan sparred in waters near the disputed Diaoyutai Islands Monday over their countries' conflicting claims to the uninhabited island chain in the East China Sea.

The argument via wireless communications came roughly a week after the two sides engaged in a water cannon altercation in the region on Sept. 25.

The spat took place at around 8 a.m. when Taiwan's Lienchiang coast guard patrol ship was protecting two Taiwanese fishing boats operating in waters some 20 nautical miles off the Diaoyutais, according to Wang Chung-yi, deputy head of the Coast Guard Administration.

Japan's coast guard started the exchange by instructing the Taiwanese ships to leave the area, claiming they had entered Japan's territorial waters, Wang said during a meeting of the Legislative Yuan's Foreign and National Defense Committee.

In response, Wang said, crewmembers aboard the 500-ton Lienjiang vessel told their Japanese counterparts through wireless communications that the area is Taiwan's exclusive economic zone and that they were there to protect Taiwanese fishermen.

According to Wang, Taiwanese and Japanese coast guard vessels had stayed in the area to monitor the situation until at least noon, but neither side had taken any confrontational actions other than reiterating sovereignty claims.

Japanese news media also reported the incident, saying a Taiwanese coast guard ship had used wireless communications to reject the demand to leave the waters near the Diaoyutais.

“Here is our exclusive economic zone and we are protecting our fishermen operating in the region,” the Lienchiang crew was quoted as having said.

Meanwhile, Japan's economic daily Sankei Shimbun reported the same day that four mainland Chinese surveillance ships had been spotted in waters near the islands, known as the Diaoyu Islands in China and the Senkaku Islands in Japan.

The report said the four Chinese vessels entered the area some 44 kilometers northeast of Huaweiyu, one of the isles in the Diaoyutais, between 12:30 p.m. and 12:40 p.m. Monday.

According to the report, the Chinese ships retorted Japanese coast guard's demand to leave the area by asserting that the Diaoyutais are part of inherent Chinese territory and that the Japanese have encroached upon Chinese sovereignty over the area.

The report said it was the first time that mainland Chinese ships were spotted in the region since Sept. 26, when all Chinese ships disappeared due to the approach of Typhoon Jelawat.

Tensions over the resource-rich Diaoyutais have escalated since Sept. 11, when Japan moved to nationalize the island group by buying three of the islets from a private owner, spurring anti-Japanese protests in many Chinese cities, as well as in Taipei and Hong Kong.

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