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Taiwanese ships clash with Japanese coast guard over disputed islands

Japanese coast guard ships shoot water cannon at Taiwanese fishing boats in the East China Sea in a territorial dispute. NBCNews.com's Dara Brown reports.

About 50 Taiwanese vessels on Tuesday entered waters near a group of uninhabited islands at the center of a bitter territorial dispute involving Japan, China and Taiwan.

Japanese public broadcaster NHK showed footage of a Japanese coast guard ship shooting water at a Taiwanese fishing boat, while a Taiwanese patrol vessel blasted water at the coast guard ship in reply during an incident near the disputed Senkaku or Diaoyu islands, as they are known respectively in Japan and China/Taiwan.

The Taiwanese vessels – 40 fishing boats and 10 coast guard ships – entered the waters to protest the recent Japanese government's purchase of the islands from a private owner.

But by noon Tuesday all of the Taiwanese vessels had left the area, the Japanese coast guard said, after claiming their rights to fish in the area.

Japan infuriates China by buying disputed isles

The islands were nationalized by the Japanese government this month after it emerged that the outspoken governor of Tokyo, Shintaro Ishihara, had been in negotiations with the islands' owner to seal a more provocative deal by promising to build an emergency port for Japanese fishermen and various weather and communications facilities.

Osamu Fujimura, Japan's Chief Cabinet Secretary, said during a morning press conference that Japan had lodged a protest with Taiwan.

Yomiuri Shimbun / AFP - Getty Images

A Japanese coast guard vessel (right) sprays water against Taiwanese fishing boats, while a Taiwanese coast guard ship (left) also sprays water in the East China Sea Tuesday.

"In terms of the security surrounding the Senkaku Islands, we will continue to work together with the relevant ministries with a sense of alertness, and gather various information and vigilantly monitor the situation," he said.

"Our position is that this needs to be resolved under framework of our friendly ties with Taiwan, and to deal with the situation calmly," he added.

Chinese protesters: 'The Diaoyu islands belong to China!'

While few experts expect a military confrontation, an unintended clash at sea would increase tension, although all sides are expected to try to manage the spat before it spirals out of control.

NBC News emailed Taiwan's foreign ministry requesting comment on the incident and received a reply saying, "Thank you for your concerns about the issue, and please be patient for our further response."

September 18, the anniversary of Japan's 1931 invasion of Manchuria, is seen as a day of national humiliation in China, marked by protests even when relations with Japan are stable. This year's anniversary came amidst a Sino-Japanese dispute over an island chain called the Senkaku islands in Japanese and known to Chinese as the Diaoyu islands. NBC's Angus Walker reports.

The islands are also claimed by China, which has long regarded Taiwan as a breakaway province that is actually part of China.

Meanwhile in China, Japan's Vice-Foreign Minister Chikao Kawai began talks with his Chinese counterpart, Zhang Zhijun, the first diplomatic meeting between the two countries since anti-Japanese riots erupted over 100 cities across China amid rising tensions over the Senkaku/Diaoyu islands.

Emotional anniversary reignites anti-Japan protests in China

Before Tuesday's meeting, the Japanese envoy told journalists that he planned to explain Japan's position in a frank manner.

Kyodo / Reuters

An aerial view shows a Japan Coast Guard patrol ship (3rd from top) spraying water toward a fishing boat from Taiwan as Taiwan's coast guard vessel (4th from top) sprays water in the East China Sea Tuesday.

"Considering the difficult situation involving Sino-Japanese relations, we would like to do our best to move our relationship forward,” Kawai said.

Much at stake for US as tensions rise in troubled China Seas

A Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman on Monday suggested that a resolution of the dispute would be difficult.

"China will elaborate on its position on the Diaoyu Islands, demand that Japan correct its mistakes and make efforts to improve Sino-Japanese relations,” Chinese Foreign Ministry Spokesman Hong Lei said, according to the UPI news service.

Reuters and NBC News staff contributed to this article.

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