, TOKYO, Japan August 8- Tokyo summoned Beijing’s envoy on Thursday after Chinese government ships entered Japanese territorial waters near islands at the centre of a bitter row between the Asian giants.
The Chinese vessels entered the area on Wednesday and were still there on Thursday morning, the foreign ministry said, marking the longest incursion since the long simmering dispute erupted again last year.
Tokyo issued a protest to acting ambassador Han Zhiqiang over the latest incident, a Japanese foreign ministry spokesman told AFP.
“The Chinese side argued its… position and said it could not accept Japan’s protest,” he said after the Chinese diplomat met officials in Tokyo.
The incursion was the latest in a series by Chinese government ships in recent months around the Senkaku islands, a potential flashpoint that some observers say could even lead to armed conflict between the two nations.
Beijing also claims the chain, which it calls the Diaoyus. The East China Sea archipelago is located in rich fishing grounds and is believed to harbour vast natural resources below its seabed.
A group of four Chinese ships entered into the Japanese waters near the islands around 7:30 am Wednesday (2230 GMT Tuesday), according to the Japanese coastguard.
The ships were still in the area at 9:00 am local time Thursday. One of the four vessels left the area Wednesday evening, but it was soon replaced by another government ship.
The longest prior stay by Chinese vessels was about 14 hours in February, Japan’s coastguard said.
“The latest incident marks the longest stay” since last year, a coastguard official told AFP.
The long running dispute flared after Japan nationalised some of the disputed chain in September, setting off a diplomatic row and riots across China.