China looking into reports its navy sailed near disputed islands

A group of disputed islands - Uotsuri island (top), Minamikojima (bottom) and Kitakojima - known as Senkaku in Japan and Diaoyu in China seen in the East China Sea in 2012.
A group of disputed islands - Uotsuri island (top), Minamikojima (bottom) and Kitakojima - known as Senkaku in Japan and Diaoyu in China seen in the East China Sea in 2012. PHOTO: REUTERS/ KYODO / FILE

BEIJING (REUTERS) - China's Defence Ministry said on Thursday (June 9) it was looking into reports a Chinese navy ship sailed close to what Japan considers its territorial waters in the East China Sea, near disputed islands.

In a statement sent to Reuters, the ministry said the islands, known in China as the Diaoyus, are Chinese, and that China's navy had every right to operate in Chinese waters.

Japan had summoned the Chinese ambassador in Tokyo early on Thursday to express concern over the incident.

The Japanese Foreign Ministry said earlier the Chinese navy ship had shortly after midnight entered waters that are contiguous to what Tokyo considers its territory in the vicinity of disputed islands, known as the Senkaku in Japan and the Diaoyu in China.

Japan's Vice Foreign Minister Akitaka Saiki summoned the Chinese ambassador in Tokyo at around 2am local time to "express a serious concern" and urge the Chinese ship to leave the area, the ministry said in a media statement. The Chinese frigate left the waters about an hour later, sailing to the north, the Japanese Defence Ministry said.

The incident came as a potential setback after signs of improvements seen in relations between Asia's two largest economic powers, which had soured in recent years over their wartime history and territorial rows.