Chinese ships return to disputed waters after Obama's Tokyo visit

An aerial photo shows Chinese marine surveillance ships Haijian No. 49 (front) and Haijian No.50 cruising in the East China Sea, as the islands known as the Senkaku isles in Japan and the Diaoyu islands in China are seen in the background, in this fi
An aerial photo shows Chinese marine surveillance ships Haijian No. 49 (front) and Haijian No.50 cruising in the East China Sea, as the islands known as the Senkaku isles in Japan and the Diaoyu islands in China are seen in the background, in this file photo taken by Kyodo on April 23, 2013. -- PHOTO: REUTERS

TOKYO (AFP) - Two Chinese coastguard ships sailed into waters around disputed islands in the East China Sea on Saturday, the Japanese coastguard said, two days after US President Barack Obama delared his support for Japan.

The vessels entered 22km into Japan's territorial waters off one of the Senkaku islands, which China also claims and calls the Diaoyus, around noon local time, the coastguard said.

It was the first such move since Mr Obama announced on Thursday that Washington would defend Japan, under the bilateral military alliance, if China initiates an attack in the tense territorial dispute. China has already dismissed Mr Obama's position, saying that the islands are "China's inherent territory."

Chinese ships last entered the area on April 12, according to the Japanese coastguard. Chinese vessels and aircraft regularly approach the East China Sea archipelago - thought to harbour vast natural resources - after Japan nationalised some of the islands in September 2012, setting off the latest spate of incidents in a long-running territorial dispute.

Relations between Tokyo and Beijing have fallen to their lowest point for years. Some observers warn they might come to blows over the islands, where ships from both sides lurk to press claims for ownership.