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Japan’s government has made a formal protest to Beijing after two Chinese fisheries patrol boats were seen near a disputed island chain.

Relations between Asia’s two biggest economies have been tense since a Chinese trawler captain was arrested by Japan’s coastguard in the same area in early September.

The Chinese fisheries patrol boats were spotted by the coast guard, according to Japan’s Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshito Sengoku.

He said they were last seen sailing away from the islands towards the Chinese mainland

The islands in the East China Sea, known in Japan as Senkaku and in China as Diaoyu, are controlled by Japan, but claimed by China.

They are uninhabited, but surrounded by potentially huge oil and gas reserves.

Japan and China have been locked in their worst dispute for years which began when a Chinese trawler captain was arrested near the islands by Japan’s coastguard in early September.

It has sparked nationalist protests in both countries.

Meanwhile Japan has urged China to normalise customs inspections of exports of rare earths, used to make everything from wind turbines to hybrid cars.

Japanese trading houses have complained shipments have been disrupted since the row began.

China, which has a near monopoly on rare earths, has insisted there is no embargo in place. BBC

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