A showdown appears to have been averted in the East China Sea between Japan's coast guard and a Taiwanese fishing boat, which was on course to approach a disputed group of islands under Japanese control. The incident is the second in two days involving Japan's territorial disputes with its neighbors.
A Taiwanese fishing boat run by several anti-Japanese protestors backed off from approaching the Senkaku Islands on Thursday.
A Japan Coast Guard spokesman, Toshiya Sera, says a coast guard patrol boat warned the vessel to stay away from Japanese waters. Sera says about 30 minutes after the warning was issued, the Taiwanese ship made a U-turn, and appears now to be heading back to Taiwan. He says the vessel came within 33 kilometers of the Senkakus.
The coast guard says before the chartered vessel changed course, some protesters aboard hurled stones at the Japanese patrol boat.
The activists apparently intended to stake a claim to the group of small, uninhabited islands, which are under Japanese control but are claimed by the governments in both Beijing and Taipei. There are reports that the group also was upset with Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi's visit Tuesday to a Tokyo shrine where convicted war criminals are honored.
Japan occupied Taiwan, part the Chinese mainland and all of the Korean peninsula in the early 20th century, before its defeat in World War II. Many people in Asia believe Japan has not demonstrated adequate remorse for its past aggression and harsh colonial rule.
Anger over the colonial era and several unresolved territorial disputes have strained Japan's relations with neighboring countries.
Protesters from Hong Kong, Taiwan and China occasionally travel to the waters around the disputed islands, which are known as the Diaoyu in Chinese. The area is considered to be a lucrative fishing ground and may have significant reserves of undersea oil.
The protesters' voyage came just a day after Russia's border patrol shot dead a Japanese fisherman. He was aboard a boat in waters near islands in the North Pacific that Moscow and Tokyo have both claimed since the end of World War II. Russian officials took three other men aboard the boat into custudy.
Japan has protested to Moscow and demanded an apology.
Japan claimed the Senkaku island group more than 110 years ago. They were under United States control after Japan's defeat in World War II, until the U.S. returned the islands to Tokyo in 1972.