Beijing sends out patrol boats as Japan 'buys' Diaoyu islands
China condemns 'act of theft' and warns Tokyo it will 'assert its sovereignty' amid fresh outbreak of protests on mainland
The territorial row between China and Japan escalated yesterday as Beijing sent patrol ships to the Diaoyus after Tokyo agreed to buy the disputed islands.
As the two marine surveillance ships awaited orders near the East China Sea islands, called the Senkakus in Japan, a fresh wave of anti-Japanese rallies broke out in mainland cities.
Diplomatic and sporting events involving anything to do with Japan were cancelled.
In Tokyo, the national government formally signed a deal to buy three of the five uninhabited Diaoyu Islands from their private Japanese owner for 2.05 billion yen (HK$203 million).
Japan's chief cabinet secretary, Osamu Fujimura, said the purchase would serve "to maintain the Senkakus peacefully".
Beijing, which claims the islands have been part of its territory since the end of the second world war, called the move "an act of theft" and sent the patrol ships to "assert sovereignty".
The ships reached the waters around the islands yesterday and would take action "pending the development of the situation", Xinhua said. The Chinese Defence Ministry warned Tokyo its forces "reserve the right to take reciprocal measures".
Ministry spokesman Geng Yansheng said: "The Chinese government and armed forces stand firm and are unshakeable in their determination and will safeguard sovereignty over the nation's territories."
The Foreign Affairs Committee of China's National People's Congress and the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference also issued statements condemning Japan.
The army's mouthpiece, the PLA Daily, published a tough-worded commentary warning Tokyo not to "play with fire".
The commentary said the land purchase was a "naked challenge to China's sovereignty".
The Japanese Foreign Ministry sent Shinsuke Sugiyama, chief of its Asian and oceanic affairs bureau, to Beijing in an attempt to explain the purchase and ease tension with Beijing.
Anti-Japanese rallies were held in Beijing, Guangzhou and other major mainland cities.
About 200 protesters took part in a protest in Weihai, Shandong province, and in Beijing about 10 protesters gathered at the gates of the Japanese embassy.
Several diplomatic and sporting events involving Japan were abruptly cancelled. Shandong deputy mayor Xia Geng called off a scheduled trip to Yamaguchi prefecture.
In Shanghai, a press conference for a marathon sponsored by Japanese chemical company Toray was cancelled a few minutes after its start. And a tourism festival planned for Saturday would no longer feature a Japan-themed float, said Shanghai tourism chief Dao Shuming.
Taiwan, which also claims the Diaoyus, recalled its top envoy from Tokyo and summoned Japan's representative to Taipei to protest the purchase. In Hong Kong, about 20 protesters from the Federation of Trade Unions petitioned at the Japanese consulate.
Additional reporting by Lawrence Chung, Cheung Chi Fai and Keith Zhai