Japan demands China pull back boats from disputed islands

Tokyo also summoned Beijing's ambassador to demand regular consular access to four Japanese nationals whom China detained last week amid the ugly spat for allegedly filming a military facility.

The latest developments came days after Japan freed a Chinese fishing boat captain, a move which failed to ease the escalating tensions and was met by China with a demand for an apology from its traditional Asian rival.

The dispute was sparked on September 8 when Japan's coastguard arrested the skipper on suspicion of intentionally ramming two of its patrol vessels in a chase near the disputed islands.

Amid the rising bad blood, Japan's top government spokesman, Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshito Sengoku, today said Tokyo would ask Beijing to pay for the damage to the coastguard boats.

China has called the skipper's arrest invalid and illegal, arguing that the islands have been part of China since ancient times.

The islets, known as Senkaku in Japan and Diaoyu in China, lie in an area between Japan's far-southern Okinawa island and Taiwan that has rich fishing grounds and is believed to contain oil and gas reserves.

Today, Sengoku said fresh trouble was brewing in the area.

Two Chinese vessels, he said, "are nearing the waters around the Senkaku islands but have not entered Japanese territorial waters, as coastguard vessels are on guard against their entry".

Japan had already asked China four times to withdraw the ships from near the islands, he told a regular news conference.

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