Updated: 06/01/2014 00:25 | By Agence France-Presse

Japan says Chinese ships sail through disputed waters

Two Chinese coastguard ships sailed through disputed waters off Japan-administered islands in the East China Sea Saturday, officials said, as the United States warned Beijing over increasing territorial assertiveness.

Japan says Chinese ships sail through disputed waters

This picture taken by the Japan Coast Guard on November 2, 2013 shows a Chinese Coast Guard ship cruising near the disputed islets known as the Senkaku islands in Japan and Diaoyu islands in China, in the East China Sea

The Japanese coastguard said the vessels entered the 12-nautical-mile band of territorial waters around one of the Senkaku islands, which China also claims and calls the Diaoyus, around 10:00 am (0100 GMT).

The two ships moved out of the zone about three hours later, it added.

China confirmed two coastguard vessels had "patrolled" the area on Saturday, the official Xinhua news agency reported.  

Chinese vessels and aircraft have regularly approached the East China Sea archipelago -- thought to harbour natural resources -- since Tokyo nationalised some of the islands in September 2012, setting off the latest spate of incidents in a long-running territorial dispute.

Saturday's incursion was the first of official Chinese vessels into the disputed waters since May 2 and the 12th this year.

China is also locked in territorial disputes, in the South China Sea, which Beijing claims almost entirely.

There have been incidences of Vietnam and China ramming each other's vessels recently while in 2012 the Philippines lost control of rich fishing grounds after a tense standoff with China. 

Brunei, Malaysia, the Philippines and Vietnam -- claim parts of the sea, with Manila and Hanoi being the most vocal in opposing China's claims. Taiwan is also a claimant.

At the annual Shangri-La Dialogue in Singapore Saturday, US Defence Secretary Chuck Hagel accused China of "destabilising actions" in the South China Sea.

He also warned that Washington would not "look the other way" if international order is threatened.

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