Dozens of Taiwanese boats entered waters near a group of disputed islands in the East China Sea Tuesday morning, the Japanese Coast Guard said.

About 40 to 50 Taiwanese ships this morning crossed into waters claimed by Japan, ignoring orders by the coast guard to leave the area, Australian Newtork News reported. The boats plan to circle the islands but not to land.

The flotilla of Taiwanese fishing and coast guard boats has made the voyage to stake their claim for the islands, which are administered by Japan and also claimed by mainland China. They are called the Senkakus by the Japanese and the Diaoyus by the Chinese.

Mainland China's Ministry of Agriculture for its part said close to 200 Chinese boats have been fishing in the area, Reuters reported.

The brief Chinese statement did not specify whether the boats were all there at one time, nor did it say how close they were to the islands. Beijing, which regards self-ruled Taiwan as a renegade province, may have included Taiwan fishing vessels in its estimate.

 

The presence of vessels from Taiwan further complicates the volatile dispute.

Taiwan has traditionally had friendly ties with Japan, but the two countries have long squabbled over fishing rights in the area. China and Taiwan both argue they have inherited China's historic sovereignty over the islands.

 

Japan's coast guard said Monday that of two of China's maritime surveillance ships had spent seven hours in territorial waters around Uotsurijima, the largest island in the chain.

Two fisheries patrol boats briefly also entered the 12-nautical-mile zone around the chain, the coastguard said.