TOKYO — Tensions flared between Japan and its Asian neighbors because a group of Japanese lawmakers visited a shrine viewed by China and South Korea as a symbol of Japan's past militarism, and Chinese patrol vessels played cat-and-mouse with a flotilla of Japanese nationalists near disputed islands in the East China Sea.
Beijing protested over the voyage by 10 boats carrying about 80 Japanese activists into waters near the islands, known as the Senkaku in Japan and the Diaoyu in China.
“Regarding the Japanese right-wing activists' illegal entry into the waters of the Diaoyu islands that is causing trouble, the Chinese foreign ministry has lodged stern representations with Japan, and has strongly protested,” Chinese foreign ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying said.
Japan protested at what it called an intrusion by eight Chinese patrol vessels into its waters near the uninhabited Japanese-controlled islands, which are near rich fishing grounds and potentially lucrative maritime gas fields.
Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, pressed in parliament to say how Japan would react to a Chinese attempt to land on the tiny islands, said it would be “natural to force them to leave.”
But Tokyo appeared to avoid a clash between the nationalists' flotilla and the Chinese ships. Japan's Coast Guard, which had 13 vessels shadowing the boats, urged them to leave and escorted them out of the area.
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