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China, Japan island dispute continues

BEIJING -- Chinese patrol boats have harried the Japanese Coast Guard many times a week for more than a month in an unusually relentless response to their maritime spat.

Four Chinese craft typically push to within hailing distance of Japan's ships. They flash illuminated signs in Japanese to press Beijing's argument that it has ancient claims to a set of tiny East China Sea islands now controlled by Tokyo. China says its craft have tried to chase the Japanese away at least once, although Japan denies any of its ships fled.

The uptick in incidents has brought the sides into dangerous proximity, reflecting a campaign by Beijing to wear down Japanese resolve with low-level, nonmilitary maneuvers but boosting the risk of a clash.

Although China wields a formidable arsenal, it has yet to deploy military assets in such encounters. Instead, Beijing has dispatched ships from government maritime agencies, only one of which is armed, to keep a lid on gunfire. Those agencies are now receiving added attention, with new ships on order and a national call going out for recruits.

China says ships from its Marine Surveillance service are merely defending Chinese sovereignty and protesting illegal Japanese control over the uninhabited islands, known as Senkaku in Japan and Diaoyu in China.

China's short-term goal has been primarily to force Japan to at least acknowledge that the islands are in dispute, something it has refused to do, but the boost in patrols raises the likelihood of a bigger confrontation, said Wang Dong, director of the Center for Northeast Asian Strategic Studies at Peking University. -- AP

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