Beijing said Monday it has an “inherent right” to patrol the waters near the disputed Senkaku Islands in the East China Sea, after a confrontation with a Japanese fishing boat in the area.

The flash point islands — which are controlled by Japan, but also claimed by China, where they are known as the Diaoyu — are a point of ongoing tension between Tokyo and Beijing.

On Friday, two Chinese ships chased away a Japanese fishing boat in the waters, before the Japan Coast Guard in turn ordered the Chinese vessels to leave.

The two Haijing ships, however, later 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.

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

Several patrol ships from the Japan Coast Guard had been deployed to safeguard the fishing boat, a spokesman said Sunday.

But Beijing said Monday that the fishing boat was “illegally operating … in China’s territorial waters.”

Foreign Ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian said the Chinese coast guard “tracked and monitored” the boat, asked it to leave, and then “resolutely responded to the illegal interference of the Japan Coast Guard vessel.”

China lodged “solemn representations” with Japan over the incident, he said.

“I would like to stress that the Diaoyu Island and its affiliated islands are China’s inherent territory,” said Zhao.

“It is China’s inherent right to conduct patrols and law enforcement in waters off the Diaoyu Island.”

Tokyo also lodged an official protest with Beijing over the incident, Japanese media reported.

The Japanese government has long complained about China’s routine dispatch of its coast guard ships to waters surrounding the islands.

Relations between Japan and China deteriorated in 2012 when Tokyo effectively nationalized some of the disputed islets and tensions still flare up over the issue.

Zhao said Tokyo should “avoid creating new incidents on the Diaoyu Islands issue” in the future and urged Japan to concentrate on its fight against the new coronavirus and promote friendly relations with China.

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