Japan says it has spotted an armed Chinese coast guard ship near a set of uninhabited islands in the East China Sea that are the center of a long-running territorial dispute between the two Asian economic giants.
The Japanese Coast Guard released a photo Tuesday that showed the vessel sailing near the islands, which are referred to in Japan as Senkaku, and the Diaoyu in China.
A coast guard spokeswoman says this is the first time an armed Chinese coast guard vessel was spotted sailing near the islands. Three other Chinese boats were also spotted sailing in that area. None of the Chinese boats sailed close enough to the areas to violate what Japan considers its territorial waters.
Beijing has angered many of its Asian neighbors in recent years with territorial claims in both the East and South China seas. China, which claims almost the entire South China Sea, has stepped up a program of land reclamation and construction in the disputed islands and reefs.