TOKYO: Japanese Coast Guard vessels fired water cannons at a Taiwanese boat on Thursday to keep a group of activists from landing on islands in the East China Sea at the centre of a dispute that has strained ties between Japan and China.
The Taiwanese boat left the area, with four Taiwanese Coast Guard vessels that had accompanied it, the Japanese Coast Guard said. Three Chinese marine surveillance vessels also circled the islands just outside Japanese waters, the Coast Guard said.
China has demanded Japan withdraw its September purchase of the islands, elevating tensions that have damaged a trade relationship worth more than $300 billion and prolonged Japan's recession. The US has repeatedly said the chain, also claimed by Taiwan, falls under a mutual defence treaty with Japan but says it takes no position on sovereignty.
Taiwan's trip on Thursday was aimed at safeguarding sovereignty and protecting its citizens, the Coast Guard Administration said on its website. The group, which left northern Taiwan at 1.45am local time, aimed to put a statue of the sea goddess Matsu on the islands, Taipei's Central News Agency reported.
Japan last shot water cannons in September to drive off about 50 Taiwanese fishing boats and patrol vessels from the islands, known as Diaoyu in China and Senkaku in Japan. The dispute has escalated in the past month, with China and Japan dispatching fighter jets to monitor each other's movements in the area.
Japanese Coast Guard vessels had earlier tried to block the Taiwanese ships 28 nautical miles from the islands.
China criticised the US Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton, this week for saying the US opposed any effort to disrupt Japan's administration of the islands.
Mrs Clinton's talks in Washington with the Japanese Foreign Minister, Fumio Kishida, were the highest-level meetings between the allies since the Japanese Prime Minister, Shinzo Abe, took office last month. Mr Abe pledged to increase defence spending in response to China's claims to the area, which is rich in oil, natural gas and fish.
Mr Abe made an overture to China this week by sending the New Komeito Party leader in the coalition, Natsuo Yamaguchi, to Beijing with a personal letter for the Communist Party General Secretary, Xi Jinping. In an editorial on Friday, the Chinese state-run Global Times newspaper said it was doubtful ''the secret whispers brought by Yamaguchi are valuable''.
The story Japan sends Taiwanese protest a spray over islands first appeared on The Sydney Morning Herald.