Japan summons China envoy over ships near disputed islands

This handout picture taken and released by the Japan Coast Guard on Aug 8, 2013 shows a Chinese Coast Guard ship cruising near the disputed islets known as the Senkaku islands in Japan and Diaoyu islands in China, in the East China Sea. Tokyo said on
This handout picture taken and released by the Japan Coast Guard on Aug 8, 2013 shows a Chinese Coast Guard ship cruising near the disputed islets known as the Senkaku islands in Japan and Diaoyu islands in China, in the East China Sea. Tokyo said on Aug 8 it summoned Beijing's envoy after Chinese government ships entered Japanese territorial waters near islands at the centre of a row between the Asian giants. -- PHOTO: AFP

TOKYO (AFP) - Tokyo said on Thursday that it has summoned the Chinese envoy after government ships entered Japanese territorial waters near islands at the centre of a territorial row between the Asian giants.

The Chinese ships entered the area on Wednesday and were still there on Thursday morning, the Foreign Ministry said, marking the longest stretch since the long-simmering dispute erupted again last year.

Tokyo issued a protest to acting ambassador Han Zhiqiang over the latest incident, a Japanese foreign ministry spokesman told AFP.

"The Chinese side argued its... position and said it could not accept Japan's protest," he said after the Chinese diplomat met Japanese officials.

The incursion was the latest in a series by Chinese government ships in recent months around the Senkaku islands.

Beijing also claims the chain, which it calls the Diaoyus. The East China Sea archipelago is located in rich fishing grounds and is believed to harbour vast natural resources below its seabed.

China issued strong criticism after Japan on Tuesday unveiled its biggest warship since World War II, a US$1.2 billion (S$1.5 billion) helicopter carrier aimed at playing a major role in disaster and rescue missions, as well as defending sea lanes and Japanese territory.