China ships enter waters off disputed islands after Japan's Yasukuni Shrine visits

TOKYO (AFP) - Chinese Coast Guard ships entered waters off disputed islands in the East China Sea on Saturday, the Japan Coast Guard said, a day after Japan Prime Minister Shinzo Abe angered Beijing by sending an offering to a controversial war shrine.

Three Chinese vessels sailed into territorial waters that extend 12 nautical miles around one of the Japanese-controlled Senkaku Islands, which China also claims and calls the Diaoyus, shortly after 10am, the Japanese Coast Guard said.

To mark the start of a four-day autumn festival on Friday, a cross-party group of Japanese parliamentarians said 110 of its members paid homage at the Yasukuni Shrine in downtown Tokyo, seen by China and Korea as a symbol of Japan's militarist past. A member of Mr Abe's Cabinet, Internal Affairs and Communications Minister Sanae Takaichi, also visited on Saturday.

Mr Abe himself sent a potted tree with his name and title prominently displayed, but it was thought unlikely he would visit the shrine after he returns home on Saturday from a summit in Italy.

His visit in December last year infuriated Beijing and Seoul, who say the inclusion of senior war criminals among those honoured by the shrine makes it an insult to victims of atrocities Tokyo committed before and during World War II.

The shrine visit came just hours after Mr Abe shook hands with Chinese Premier Li Keqiang on the sidelines of an Asia-Europe summit in the Italian city of Milan.

The handshake had been seen as the latest sign of a tentative thaw, with Japan pressing for a summit with Chinese President Xi Jinping next month.

Relations between Japan and China have been in deep freeze for two years over the ownership of the islands and what Beijing views as Japan's rewriting of history - especially concerning World War II.