* Chinese ships leave waters in afternoon
* Japan lodges official protest
* Bad weather might delay arrival of Taiwan ships
* U.S., Japan forces hold joint exercise in Guam
By Kiyoshi Takenaka and Antoni Slodkowski
TOKYO, Sept 24 Four Chinese ships briefly
entered what Japan considers its territorial waters near
disputed islands in the East China Sea on Monday, prompting an
official protest from Tokyo and renewed diplomatic efforts to
cool tensions between the rivals.
In a move that could further complicate the territorial row
that is threatening relations between Asia's biggest economies,
a group of fishermen from Taiwan -- which also claims the rocky
isles -- said as many as 100 boats escorted by 10 Taiwan Coast
Guard vessels were headed for the area.
China's Xinhua news agency said in the morning that two
civilian surveillance ships were undertaking a "rights defence"
patrol near the islands, citing the State Oceanic
Administration, which controls the ships. Two fishery patrol
vessels were also detected inside waters claimed by Japan.
Japan lodged an official protest.
By afternoon, all four Chinese vessels had moved further
away, the Japanese Coast Guard said.
Sino-Japanese relations deteriorated sharply after Japan
bought the islands, called Senkaku in Japan and Diaoyu in China,
earlier this month, sparking anti-Japan protests across China.
"In recent days, Japan has constantly provoked incidents
concerning the Diaoyu islands issue, gravely violating China's
territorial sovereignty," Xinhua reported.
The ship patrols were intended to exercise China's
"administrative jurisdiction" over the islands, it said.
"Following the relevant laws of the People's Republic of
China, (the ships) again carried out a regular rights defence
patrol in our territorial waters around the Diaoyu islands."
Sino-Japanese ties have long been plagued by China's
memories of Japan's military aggression in the 1930s and 1940s
and present rivalry over regional influence and resources.
Japanese Vice Foreign Minister Chikao Kawai will visit China
on Monday to discuss Sino-Japanese relations with Chinese Vice
Foreign Minister Zhang Zhijun, the Foreign Ministry said.
The arrival of Taiwan vessels in the area could complicate
the potentially fraught game of cat-and-mouse being played near
the islands, where mainland China has launched an effort to
assert sovereignty by sending government ships into the disputed
Taiwan television showed boats bound for the islands leaving
Suao port in heavy rain, sporting banners and large Taiwan
flags. News reports said bad weather could delay their arrival,
expected overnight on Monday.
The Taiwan fishing group said their boats would sail around
the islands to reassert their right to fish there and did not
rule out trying to land on the rocky isles.
Taiwan Defence Minister Kao Hua-chu told parliament that the
military was ready for any contingency, but did not elaborate.
Taiwan has traditionally had friendly ties with Japan, but
the two countries have long squabbled over fishing rights in the
area. Beijing deems Taiwan to be an illegitimate breakaway
province, and the two sides both argue they have inherited
China's historic sovereignty over the islands, which are near
rich fishing grounds and potentially huge oil and gas reserves.
The latest flare-up in tensions over the islands comes at a
time when both China and Japan confront domestic political
pressures. Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda's government
faces an election in months, adding pressure on him not to look
weak on China.
China's Communist Party is preoccupied with a leadership
turnover, with President Hu Jintao due to step down as party
leader at a congress that could open as soon as next month.
On Monday, Noda told reporters before leaving for New York
to address the U.N. General Assembly that he would stress the
importance of solving problems between nations by the rule of
law, but that he had no plan now to mention specific issues in
his speech to the world body.
Some 40 Japanese troops and 2,200 U.S. Marines, meanwhile,
are conducting a joint drill on and around the U.S. territory of
Guam aimed at improving their ability to defend remote islands,
Japan's defence ministry said. The exercise runs from Aug. 21
through Sept. 26.
Worries are simmering that the row could hurt the economic
ties that closely bind China and Japan. China is Japan's largest
trading partner. In 2011, their bilateral trade grew 14.3
percent in value to a record $345 billion.