Islands row: Japan fires water cannon at Taiwanese boat

TAIPEI (TIP): A boat with Taiwanese activists headed for disputed Japanesecontrolled islands turned back Thursday after coast guard vessels from the two sides converged and duelled with water cannon. The boat, carrying seven people including four Taiwanese activists, gave up a plan to land on the East China Sea islands after being blocked by Japanese coast guard vessels as it sailed within 17 nautical miles of the archipelago. “We fired water cannon at each other,” Taiwanese coast guard spokesman Shih Yiche said of the confrontation. The disputed islands, in an area where the seabed is believed to harbour valuable mineral reserves, are known as Senkaku in Japanese and Diaoyu in Chinese. Both China and Taiwan claim them. As the standoff unfolded, three Chinese surveillance vessels were positioned a few nautical miles off, the Taiwanese coast guard said. It added that it was the first time ships from China had been spotted near a Taiwanese-Japanese incident, and that it had sent a radio message to the three boats to keep their distance in order not to complicate matters. The incident came at a time of growing regional concern over the intensified friction over the islands between China and Japan, with both Beijing and Tokyo recently scrambling fighter jets to assert their claims to the area. The Japanese coast guard confirmed that it took action after encountering the Taiwanese vessel. “Our patrol boat carried out restrictions on the vessel such as blocking its path and discharging water,” it said in a statement. “The vessel left our country’s contiguous zone at around 1:30 pm (0430 GMT) and continued sailing west-southwest away from the Senkakus.” The activists, who set off in the early hours and were expected to return to Taiwan at about 7pm (1100 GMT), had hoped to place a statue of the Goddess of the Sea on the islands, to protect Taiwanese fishermen in the area. They had also intended to “maintain sovereignty” in defiance of Japan’s control, said Hsieh Mang-lin, the Taiwanese chairman of the Chinese Association for Protecting the Diaoyutais (Diaoyu Islands).

Taiwan’s coast guard said four of its vessels on routine patrols in the area had protected the activists’ boat. “The coast guard will protect our people’s voluntary actions to defend the Diaoyu islands. coast guard vessels will go wherever the fishing boat is… to defend our sovereignty and protect our fishing rights,” it said in a statement. A Japanese foreign ministry spokesman said officials at the nation’s de facto embassy in Taipei, established in the absence of formal relations, had been in touch with the Taiwanese government about the incident. “We have repeatedly called on the Taiwan side to take proper action in order to prevent an unfavourable situation from arising in the favourable Japan-Taiwan relations,” he said. coast guard vessels from Japan and Taiwan also exchanged water cannon barrages in September after dozens of Taiwanese boats were escorted by patrol ships into the islands’ waters.

Previous activist landings have resulted in the arrest and deportation of those setting foot on what Japan says has been its indisputable territory for more than a century. The rocky island outposts have been the scene of a diplomatic tussle between Japan and China for months. Japan’s government nationalised three of them in September by taking them out of private Japanese ownership

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