East China islands dispute sparks sea battles


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The Independent Online

A water cannon battle erupted between Japanese and Taiwanese ships in the latest confrontation over tiny islands in the East China Sea, as Japan met another rival, China, in an effort to reduce tension.

About 40 Taiwanese fishing boats and 12 patrol boats entered waters near the islands, briefly triggering an exchange of water cannon fire with Japanese coast guard ships. Japan said the Taiwanese had ignored warnings to get out of their territory, and the Taiwanese pulled back after being fired upon.

It was Taiwan's first foray into the waters around the uninhabited islands, known as Senkaku in Japan and Diaoyu in China, since the Japanese government purchased some of them from private owners two weeks ago. China, Japan and Taiwan all claim the islands, but they are administered by Tokyo.

The purchase has sparked sometimes violent protests in China and informal boycotts of Japanese products. Many Chinese have cancelled holidays to Japan over the dispute. Japanese airline JAL says it plans to cut six flights a day from Japan to Beijing and Shanghai from October 10 to 27 after the cancelling of 15,500 seat reservations.

China has also dispatched government marine monitoring vessels to patrol around the islands.

Chinese and Japanese foreign ministers held a meeting on the dispute. While the talks were under way, China's Cabinet, the State Council, released a white paper via the official Xinhua News Agency on the history of the islands, part of a propaganda blitz aimed at bolstering China's claim.

While both governments appeared publicly to be seeking to calm tensions, gamesmanship around the islands continued.

About 10 Chinese vessels are still lingering just outside the Japanese waters off the islands.