Taiwan's coastguard has blocked an attempt by its Japanese counterpart to board a Taiwanese fishing boat sailing near the disputed Diaoyu Islands in the East China Sea, in the latest protest over competing sovereignty claims to the chain.
The boat, carrying three protesters from Taiwan's Defend Diaoyutai Association, sailed towards the islands on Tuesday night from a fishing port near New Taipei City, the Taiwanese coastguard said.
'When the boat was just 1.6 nautical miles from the Diaoyu Islands, Japan's coastguard sent three patrol vessels which attempted to block the fishing boat and hold it for inspection,' said Wang Chung-yi, deputy director general of Taiwan's Coastguard Administration.
But Taiwan's coastguard, which sent five patrol vessels as escorts, flashed LED signals stating the Japanese boats were intruding in Taiwan's territorial waters, Wang said. The Japanese responded with a similar device declaring its claim to the area, he said. The incident ended without further conflict. The fishing boat later sailed back to Taiwan, Wang said.
The three protesters, led by Huang Hsi-lin, chairman of the Taiwanese association, said the protest was the first against Japan by the newly formed World Chinese People Defend Diaoyutai Alliance.
He said it was a response to recent moves by the Japanese side, including the landing of two local assemblymen on the Diaoyus and the launch of a campaign by nationalists, led by hawkish Tokyo Governor Shintaro Ishihara, to buy islands in the chain from their purported private Japanese owners.
Japan lodged a protest with Taipei's foreign ministry over the incident. Steve Hsia, deputy spokesman for the ministry said: 'We refused to accept the protest on the grounds that the islands are our territory.'
The Diaoyu Islands, known as the Senkaku Islands in Japan, are claimed by Taipei, Japan and Beijing. Over the years, there have been a number of protests organised by Taiwanese and Hong Kong activists to protest against Japan's claims.
In Beijing, Foreign Ministry spokesman Liu Weimin reiterated Beijing's claim to the Diaoyus, saying: 'We have asked the Japanese side not to do anything that is harmful to the safety of Chinese people, including those from Taiwan.'
Beijing has asked Taipei to help uphold Chinese claims and explore fishing and oil resources in the region, but Taipei rejected the call.
Additional reporting by Terry Ng