Why is Japan feuding over islands?
02:25 - Source: CNN

Story highlights

NEW: Japan says the Chinese ships ignored warnings not to enter its waters

NEW: Tokyo will take "all possible measures to ensure security," Noda says

Tensions between Japan and China are high over a group of disputed islands

Japan controls the islands, but China claims they are part of its territory

Tokyo CNN  — 

Six Chinese maritime surveillance ships briefly entered waters around a group of islands at the center of a heated territorial dispute between Tokyo and Beijing, ignoring warnings from the Japanese authorities amid escalating tensions in the region.

The ships arrived near the uninhabited islands – which Japan calls Senkaku and China calls Diaoyu – and began patrols and “law enforcement,” China’s state-run news agency Xinhua reported.

The islands, situated in the East China Sea between Okinawa and Taiwan, are under Japanese control, but China claims they have been a part of its territory for ages.

The Chinese ships entered Japanese territorial waters Friday despite warnings from the Japanese Coast Guard, said Shinichi Gega, a spokesman for Japan’s 11th Regional Coast Guard Headquarters.

Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda said Japan would “take all possible measures to ensure security” around the islands.

See a map of Asia’s disputed islands

Two of the Chinese ships responded to a Japanese Coast Guard vessel’s warning by reiterating China’s territorial claim to the islands and saying they were carrying out patrol work, according to Gega. Japanese ships and helicopters are continuing their own patrols of the area, he said.

The controversial Chinese move to begin patrols around the islands follows Japan’s purchase of several of the islands from a private owner this week. China described the deal as “illegal and invalid.”

Animosity between the two countries over the islands runs deep.

They have come to represent what many Chinese see as unfinished business: redressing the impact of the Japanese occupation of large swathes of eastern China during the 1930s and 1940s.

China says its claim goes back hundreds of years. Japan says it saw no trace of Chinese control of the islands in an 1885 survey, so formally recognized them as Japanese sovereign territory in 1895.

Japan then sold the islands in 1932 to descendants of the original settlers. The Japanese surrender at the end of World War II in 1945 only served to cloud the issue further.

The islands were administered by the U.S. occupation force after the war. But in 1972, Washington returned them to Japan as part of its withdrawal from Okinawa.

CNN’s Junko Ogura in Tokyo and Jethro Mullen in Hong Kong contributed to this report.