Taiwan boats enter disputed China, Japan waters

Taiwan fishing boats have entered waters Japan claims is their territory, adding fuel to its feud with China.

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TOKYO - About 40 Taiwan fishing boats and eight Taiwan Coast Guard vessels entered waters that Japan considers its territory on Tuesday, the Japanese Coast Guard said, adding an unpredictable twist to a bitter row between Tokyo and Beijing.

China's Ministry of Agriculture for its part said close to 200 Chinese boats have been fishing in seas around a group of rocky islands disputed with Japan.

The brief Chinese statement did not specify whether the boats were all there at one time, nor did it say how close they were to the islands. Beijing, which regards self-ruled Taiwan as a renegade province, may have included Taiwan fishing vessels in its estimate.

Sino-Japanese relations deteriorated sharply after Japan bought the islands in the East China Sea, called Senkaku in Japan and Diaoyu in China, earlier this month, sparking anti-Japan protests across China.

The feud over the islands, near rich fishing grounds and potentially huge gas and oil reserves, is also threatening economic ties between Asia's two biggest economies.

The presence of vessels from Taiwan only complicates the issue.

Taiwan has traditionally had friendly ties with Japan, but the two countries have long squabbled over fishing rights in the area. China and Taiwan both argue they have inherited China's historic sovereignty over the islands.

The flare-up in tension comes at a time when both China and Japan confront domestic political pressures. Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda's government faces an election in months, adding pressure on him not to look weak on China.

China's Communist Party is preoccupied with a leadership turnover, with President Hu Jintao due to step down as party leader at a congress that could open as soon as next month.

A group of Taiwan fishing boats left for the islands in heavy rain on Monday. The group said the boats would sail around the islands and assert their right to fish there - and did not rule out attempting to land.

As many as 100 Taiwan fishing boats may be in the area, Japanese media said.

Japan's Kyodo news agency also said that five Chinese government surveillance vessels were in nearby waters but outside the area Japan considers its territory.