TOKYO – Three Chinese government ships sailed in waters around disputed islands controlled by Tokyo for about five hours on Sunday, Japan’s coastguard said.
The Chinese maritime surveillance vessels were spotted inside the 12-nautical-mile zone off the Senkaku islands, which China calls the Diaoyus, in the East China Sea shortly after 10:00 am (0100 GMT), the coastguard said.
They left the zone at 3:14 p.m., it said later.
Territorial waters extend for a maximum of 12 nautical miles from coastlines under international law.
The move was the latest in a long series of stand-offs between ships from both sides as Beijing and Tokyo jostle over ownership of the strategically important and resource-rich islands.
A territorial row that dates back four decades reignited last September when Tokyo nationalized three islands in the chain, in what it said was a mere administrative change of ownership.
The central government’s move was intended to pre-empt a purchase by the Tokyo city government led at the time by nationalist governor Shintaro Ishihara.
But the move prompted angry anti-Japan demonstrations across China, which has intensified claims to the islands it says should have been “returned” after World War II.