TOKYO - Japan's prime minister vowed Tuesday to "expel by force" any Chinese landing on islands at the centre of a territorial row, after eight Chinese government vessels sailed into the disputed waters.
The latest clash over the archipelago upped the stakes in a tense diplomatic battle as nearly 170 Japanese lawmakers visited the controversial Yasukuni war shrine in central Tokyo, seen as a potent symbol of Japan's imperialist past, riling its neighbours China and South Korea.
Tokyo summoned the Chinese ambassador to Japan after the state-owned Chinese ships entered its territorial waters while Beijing called the shrine visit an "attempt to deny Japan's history of aggression".
The flotilla is the biggest to sail into the disputed waters in a single day since Tokyo nationalised part of the island chain in September.
The islands are surrounded by rich fishing grounds and are believed to harbour vast natural resources below the seabed.
Prime Minister Shinzo Abe vowed to "expel by force" any Chinese landing on the islands in the East China Sea, and promised "decisive action".
"We would never allow a landing," Abe told parliament in response to questions from lawmakers, adding: "It would be natural for us to expel by force if (the Chinese) were to make a landing," he said.
Chinese ships have frequently sailed around the five Tokyo-controlled islands in recent months sparking diplomatic clashes.