BEIJING — Japanese coast guard ships fired water cannon to push back Taiwanese vessels Tuesday in the latest confrontation over a group of tiny islands in the East China Sea, as the main contenders, China and Japan, opened talks in a diplomatic effort to tamp down tensions.
About 40 Taiwanese boats entered waters near the islands on Tuesday morning, briefly triggering an exchange of water cannon fire with Japanese coast guard ships who said the Taiwanese vessels ignored warnings to get out of their territory.
The Japanese government's purchase of some of the uninhabited islands known as Senkaku in Japan and Diaoyu in China from private owners two weeks ago has sparked sometimes violent protests in China and informal boycotts of Japanese products. China, Japan and Taiwan all claim the islands, but they are administered by Tokyo.
Chinese Vice Foreign Minister Zhang Zhijun and Japanese Vice Foreign Minister Chikao Kawai, flanked by their aides, held a meeting on the dispute Tuesday at China's Foreign Ministry.
While both governments appeared publicly to be seeking to calm tensions, gamesmanship around the islands continued Tuesday.
The Taiwanese fishing boats were joined by 12 Taiwanese government patrol boats in approaching the islands, and some of them violated Japanese territorial waters, Japanese coast guard officials said.
After water cannon were fired on both sides, the Taiwanese boats left Japanese waters, they said.
Taiwan's government-owned Central News Agency said 75 Taiwanese fishing boats, escorted by coast guard ships, entered waters surrounding the islands to assert Taiwan's sovereignty over the disputed territory.
Chinese boats have also briefly entered the waters around the islands, but Japanese coast guard vessels didn't fire water cannon at them. A coast guard official said Chinese vessels usually exit the Japanese waters more quickly after verbal warnings, without forcing Japanese patrol ships to take physical action.
Associated Press writers Malcolm Foster and Mari Yamaguchi in Tokyo and Peter Enav in Taipei, Taiwan, and researcher Yu Bing in Beijing contributed to this report.