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Taiwanese vessels add new twist to Japan-China row

Ships from the Japanese and Taiwanese coast guards used water cannons to spray each other on Tuesday in the latest incident in a growing row over a group of disputed islands.

The Japanese vessels reportedly opened fire with water cannons in an effort to turn away dozens of Taiwanese fishing boats that had entered waters near the islands in the East China Sea. Taiwanese coast guard vessels, which had accompanied the fishing boats, then returned fire with their own water cannons.

The Japanese coast guard announced that all of the Taiwanese boats have since left the disputed area.

"We have made contact with the Taiwan authorities and told them they cannot enter our territorial waters," Japan's chief cabinet secretary, Osamu Fujimura told a press conference in Tokyo. "Our stance is that this is something that needs to be solved in the context of good bilateral ties between Japan and Taiwan," he added.

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Three-way island dispute escalates

Speaking in parliament, however, the head of Taiwan's Coast Guard Administration sounded defiant.

"We'll do everything to protect our fishermen," Wang Chin-wang said. "We do not rule out using force to fight back if Japan were to do so."

A spokesman for the Taiwanese coast guard confirmed to reporters that almost 60 vessels had made it well into a 12-nautical-mile exclusion zone, which Japan claims sovereignty over. Taiwan and China also claim the archipelago.

The incident came as senior Chinese and Japanese officials were set to hold talks in Beijing aimed at resolving their dispute over the islands. The dispute was sparked by Japan's purchase of three of the islands from a private landowner earlier this month.

While all three countries claim fishing rights, it is also thought that there could be significant energy reserves in the seabed in the region.

pfd/sej (Reuters, dpa, AFP)

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