Japan has protested to China over an incident late last week in which Chinese government ships chased a Japanese fishing boat in Japanese waters around the Senkaku Islands, Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga said Monday.

In the protest, made through diplomatic channels both in Tokyo and Beijing between Friday and Sunday, Japan strongly demanded that the Chinese ships immediately stop chasing the fishing boat and leave the waters, Suga said at a news conference.

The incident occurred Friday afternoon near the Japanese-controlled islands, which are also claimed by China, and come as the international community continues to fight against the COVID-19 pandemic.

“In order to prevent the incident from affecting (Sino-Japanese) cooperation, we strongly urge positive action from the Chinese side,” Suga said.

The flashpoint islands, known in China as the Diaoyu, are at the center of a festering row between Tokyo and Beijing. The Japanese government has long complained about China’s routine dispatch of its coast guard ships to waters surrounding the islands.

Two of Chinese coast guard ships left Japanese territorial waters off the Senkakus in the East China Sea on Sunday evening after staying in the area for about 26 hours, according to the Japan Coast Guard.

The two Haijing ships crossed into the Japanese waters west of Uotsuri Island, one of the tiny uninhabited islets, at around 6:05 p.m. Saturday, the Japan Coast Guard’s 11th regional headquarters in Naha said.

During their stay in the waters, the Chinese government ships were seen approaching the Japanese fishing boat. They left the waters at a point southwest of Uotsuri around 8:20 p.m. Sunday, Japan Coast Guard officials said.

The Haijing ships, together with two other Chinese coast guard ships, had also entered Japanese waters around the islands Friday, to give chase to the Japanese fishing boat.

Relations between Japan and China deteriorated in 2012 when Tokyo effectively nationalized some of the disputed islets. Since then, the two top Asian economies have taken gradual steps to mend fences but relations at times get tense.

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