BEIJING (AP) -- Chinese buoys placed near islands claimed by Beijing but controlled by Japan are intended to monitor ocean conditions and should not be "played up," a Foreign Ministry spokeswoman said Tuesday following questions from Tokyo.
Japan had asked China to explain the purpose of the buoys, which were placed just outside Japanese waters near uninhabited East China Sea islands called Senkaku by Japan and Diaoyu by China. Some in Japan had speculated that the buoys were intended to detect the movement of submarines.
Speaking at a regularly scheduled news conference, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying said they were set there by Chinese authorities to carry out "maritime weather observations."
"I think it does not deserve to be disputed or played up," Hong said.
The longstanding dispute between China and Japan over the islands flared anew after Japan purchased three of the five in the group from their private owners in September. Beijing says the islands have been Chinese for centuries, but Japan refuses to acknowledge counterclaims.
Chinese ships have repeatedly crossed into Japanese waters around the islands and confronted Japanese coast guard ships with flashed messages asserting Chinese sovereignty and demanding they leave the area. The sides have also accused each other of tailing their patrol planes. Japan says a Chinese ship locked on to one of its craft with its weapons control radar in a threatening gesture, something China has denied.
Japan's nationalization move sparked violent anti-Japanese protests in several Chinese cities, in a revival of propaganda-fueled animosity over Japan's brutal invasion and occupation of much of China early in the 20th century.