China warns Japan against 'provocation' around disputed islets

China Coast Guard vessel No. 31239 sails in the East China Sea near the disputed isles known as Senkaku isles in Japan and Diaoyu islands in China, in this handout photo taken and released by the 11th Regional Coast Guard Headquarters-Japan Coast Guard December 22, 2015. Mandatory Credit REUTERS/11th Regional Coast Guard Headquarters-Japan Coast Guard/Handout via Reuters/Files

BEIJING (Reuters) - China's Foreign Ministry warned Japan on Wednesday not to take "provocative" action around a group of disputed islets in the East China Sea, saying Tokyo would have to accept the consequences. On Tuesday, Japan said it had told China that any foreign naval vessel entering Japanese waters for reasons other than "innocent passage" will be told to leave by a Japanese naval patrol, signaling a potential escalation in a long-running dispute. Last year, Chinese navy ships sailed near the disputed isles, known as the Senkaku in Japan and the Diaoyu in China, the Japanese government said. Asked about the Japanese announcement, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Hong Lei said China had the right to carry out "normal navigation and patrol activities" around the islands. "We advise Japan against taking provocative acts or doing anything to raise tensions, otherwise it will have to accept responsibility for everything that happens," he told a daily news briefing, without elaborating. In an editorial on Wednesday, the influential Chinese tabloid the Global Times said if Japan sent its navy in, China would have to send in its warships too. "China can send as many warships to the Diaoyu Islands as Japan does," said the newspaper, which is run by the ruling Communist Party's official People's Daily. The dispute over the uninhabited islands, which are under Japanese control, has been a major sticking point in Japan and China's often contentious relations in recent years. Late last year, a Chinese coastguard vessel with what appeared to be gun turrets entered territorial waters claimed by Japan near the islands, Japan's coastguard said, adding that it was the first such incursion by an armed Chinese vessel in the area. (Reporting by Ben Blanchard; Editing by Miral Fahmy)