TOKYO — A tense maritime incident Tuesday in which two Japanese patrol vessels and a Chinese fishing boat collided near a disputed island chain triggered a diplomatic spat between the Asian giants.
China expressed its "great concern" over the series of two collisions in the East China Sea, while Japan summoned a Chinese diplomat to protest the incident, in which no-one was reported injured and no vessels sank.
Chinese vice foreign minister Song Tao later summoned Japanese ambassador to China, Uichiro Niwa, and lodged "solemn representations", the state Xinhua news agency said.
The uninhabited islands -- known as Senkaku in Japan and Diaoyu in China -- lie between Japan's Okinawa island and Taiwan. They are claimed by Tokyo, Beijing and Taipei and are frequently the focus of regional tensions.
Japan's Ichiro Ozawa, who is vying to oust Prime Minister Naoto Kan in a party leadership race this month to lead the nation, said Sunday that Tokyo must strongly fend off Beijing's claim to the disputed islets.
The incident started when Japan's 1,349-ton patrol boat the Yonakuni ordered the Chinese trawler to cease fishing in the disputed waters, Kyodo News agency reported, citing the Japanese Coast Guard.
The Chinese boat's bow then hit the Yonakuni's stern and also collided with another Japanese patrol boat, the Mizuki, some 40 minutes later, Kyodo reported citing the coast guard.
Three Japanese patrol boats then chased the Chinese vessel and 22 Japanese personnel boarded the ship to question the Chinese crew on suspicion of violating the fisheries law, Kyodo reported.
The Japan coast guard later arrested the captain of the Chinese ship on suspicion of obstructing public duties, Kyodo said, quoting a senior government official.
Chinese foreign ministry spokeswoman Jiang Yu had earlier told a regular news briefing that "China expresses great concern over this incident".
Beijing had stressed to Tokyo that the islands have been part of Chinese territory since ancient times, she said.
China has urged Japan to stop the "so-called law enforcement activities in the adjacent borders" and not do anything that might "jeopardise the safety of Chinese fishing boats and Chinese people".
"We will keep a close eye on developments and reserve the right to make a further response," Jiang added.
Japan's foreign ministry said it had "summoned a minister-counsellor at the Chinese embassy in Tokyo and lodged a protest over the incident".
"We stated that the incident resulted from illegal fishing on China's part," the ministry said. "We asked the Chinese government help prevent a recurrence of the incident and give thorough instructions to Chinese fishing boats."
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