Chinese patrol boats depart disputed waters: Japan

Beijing had sent boats to protect fishing vessels operating in East China Sea.

Tokyo: Japan on Wednesday said two Chinese fisheries patrol boats withdrew from waters near a disputed island chain that is at the centre of the worst diplomatic row in years between the Asian giants.

"The coastguard was using radar to monitor the two vessels," a coastguard spokeswoman said. "They moved away around dawn (on Wednesday) and left the area," she said.

Beijing had sent the boats on September 23 to protect Chinese fishing vessels operating near the disputed islands in the East China Sea known as Senkaku in Japan and Diaoyu in China.

The move followed Tokyo`s arrest on September 08 of a Chinese trawler captain whose ship collided with two Japanese patrol vessels near the disputed island chain, leading Beijing to cut off all high-level contacts until Monday.

Japan later released the captain, but the move did little to ease tensions and left Prime Minister Naoto Kan open to domestic attacks from political conservatives claiming he had caved in to Chinese bullying.

But a brief meeting between Kan and Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao on the sidelines of an Asia-Europe summit in Brussels Monday broke the ice after the almost month-long territorial row.

An official said that after each stated their position on ownership of the islands -- with each claiming sovereignty -- the pair "shared the view that the actual situation in the Japanese-Sino relationship is not desirable."

However, officials in Tokyo took a cautious stance over Wednesday`s developments and refused to be drawn on whether it was a sign of easing tensions.

"We must not prejudge the future activities of the Chinese fisheries patrol vessels," said Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshito Sengoku at a regular press conference.

"We should spend more time to look at this case, as to whether the situation has eased or become more serious or whether we can say they are related (to the Brussels summit)," he said.

"We will continue our careful surveillance and remain vigilant."

China had reacted strongly in the Senkaku dispute, freezing high-level talks and visits and taking punitive economic measures, according to industry sources, such as temporarily halting rare earth exports to Japan.

Beijing has repeatedly denied that it has held up shipments in retaliation for the territorial row.

But Tokyo has said it will press China to stop holding up rare earth mineral shipments and other commodities after a government survey showed companies handling the materials reported Chinese disruption to shipments.

China on Friday allowed three Japanese construction workers to return home after detaining them for 11 days for filming at a restricted military site, but it retained one of their colleagues for further questioning.

Nationalist groups demonstrated in Tokyo on Saturday against what they saw as a diplomatic defeat for Japan while recent opinion polls have showed support for the prime minister has fallen among the Japanese public over the spat.

Bureau Report

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