Japanese and Chinese authorities traded accusations Thursday over patrol vessels in waters near a disputed chain of islands, raising the temperature in the simmering three-way row over the islands’ ownership.
Four ships from the China Maritime Surveillance agency encountered four vessels from the Japanese coast guard while on patrol in the 12-mile territorial waters around the islands early Thursday, according to China’s state-run Xinhua news agency.
Chinese authorities said the maritime surveillance vessels radioed the Japanese ships and ordered them to leave, Xinhua reported.
The Japanese government lodged a “strong protest” over the incident with China’s ambassador in Tokyo, according to the Japanese news agency Kyodo.
It was the first time the maritime surveillance vessels had entered the waters since Oct. 3.
Tokyo and Beijing both lay claim to the islands — called Senkaku in Japan and Diaoyu in China — as does Taiwan.
Although tiny, barren and uninhabited, the islands are valuable because they rest astride strategic shipping lanes, are surrounded by rich fishing waters and sit atop potential petroleum deposits.
Thursday’s incident comes after secret top-level meetings between Tokyo and Beijing over the weekend, Kyodo reported.
Japanese Deputy Foreign Minister Chikao Kawai met his Chinese counterpart, Zhang Zhijun, in Shanghai, the agency said, citing official sources.