Japan says six Chinese patrol ships have entered its territorial waters near disputed islands in the East China Sea, further heightening the tensions over the uninhabited archipelago claimed both by Tokyo and Beijing.
Japan's Coast Guard said two Chinese vessels entered Japanese waters early Friday, and four more vessels arrived soon after. The Coast Guard says it has issued a warning for them to leave.
China's official news agency, Xinhua, Thursday quoted the Ministry of Agriculture as saying the vessels would be dispatched on routine patrol near the islands to assert China's sovereignty and protect fishermen.
The rocky islets, known as Senkaku in Japan and Diaoyu in China, have been the focus of recurring flare-ups between the two sides.
On Thursday, hundreds of protesters gathered outside the Japanese embassy in Beijing to condemn Japan's move to nationalize the privately owned islands in the resource-rich maritime area. They called for Japan to leave the uninhabited islands and for a boycott of Japanese products.
Chinese authorities allowed the demonstrations to proceed, although police prevented protesters from getting close to the Japanese embassy compound.
Japan's Kyodo news agency reported that anti-Japan protests also took place in Shanghai and Fuzhou, the capital of Fujian Province.
China's vice commerce minister, Jiang Zengwei, warned Thursday the dispute could affect trade between China and Japan, while Japanese Foreign Minister Koichiro Gemba called for calm.
China is Japan’s largest trading partner.
On Monday, Japan announced a $26 million deal to nationalize the disputed island chain, whose waters contain rich fishing grounds and potential oil reserves. Japanese officials said the move was meant to ensure that no one triggers a confrontation with China by developing the uninhabited islands.
China called Japan's purchase a violation of Chinese sovereignty, saying China does not recognize any Japanese ownership of the islands. China urged Japan to revoke the purchase immediately.
Japan rejected China's demand, saying Tokyo will not reconsider a transaction involving what it considers to be sovereign Japanese territory.