Three Chinese ships in Senkaku's disputed waters: Japan

TOKYO (AFP) - Three Chinese government ships sailed in waters around disputed islands controlled by Tokyo for about nine hours on Thursday, Japan's coastguard said.

The Chinese maritime surveillance vessels were spotted in the 12-nautical-mile zone off the Senkaku islands, which China calls the Diaoyus, in the East China Sea shortly before 9.30am, the coastguard said.

They left the zone at around 6.30pm, it said later.

It was the latest in a long line of stand-offs between official ships from both sides as Beijing and Tokyo jostle over ownership of the strategically important and resource-rich islands.

A territorial row that dates back four decades reignited last September when Tokyo nationalised three islands in the chain, in what it said was a mere administrative change of ownership.

The central government's move was intended to preempt a purchase by the Tokyo city government led at the time by nationalist governor Shintaro Ishihara.

But Tokyo's move prompted angry anti-Japan demonstrations across China, which has intensified claims to the islands it says should have been "returned" after World War II.