East China Sea claims flare again thanks to incursion

TENSIONS over Japan and China's competing claims in the East China Sea have flared again following the entry of Chinese coastguard vessels and about 230 fishing boats into waters Tokyo considers to be its own.

The Japanese Foreign Ministry said the fishing boats were escorted by six Chinese coastguard ships, including three or four that appeared to be armed, on Friday and Saturday.

Japanese deputy Foreign Minister Shinsuke Sugiyama summoned China's ambassador in Tokyo, Cheng Yonghua, to lodge a protest and accused Beijing of escalating tensions.

The uninhabited East China Sea islands in the disputed waters are called the Senkaku in Japan and Diaoyu in China and have long been a source of friction between the nations.

"Japan can never accept activities by (Chinese) official vessels near the Senkaku islands because it will unilaterally escalate the situation and raise tensions in the area," the Foreign Ministry said in a statement.

It seems possible, however, that the latest incident has more to do with Second World War history than the disputed waters.

Beijing was incensed on Friday, accusing Japan's new Defence Minister, Tomomi Inada, of recklessly misrepresenting history after she refused to say whether Japanese troops massacred civilians in China during the war.

Also on Saturday, China sent fighter jets and bombers to patrol two contested islands in the South China Sea.

The Xinhua news agency reported a Chinese Airforce spokesman as saying warplanes were escorted by airborne early warning aircraft and flying tankers as part of "actual combat training to improve the Air Force's response to security threats".

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