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China says boats from newly-formed coast guard confront Japanese vessels near disputed islands

China says ships from its newly-formed coast guard have confronted Japanese patrol vessels in waters surrounding disputed East China Sea islands.

The State Oceanic Administration that oversees the service says four of its ships "sternly declared" China's sovereignty over the islands called Senkaku by Japan and Diaoyu by China. The uninhabited archipelago is controlled by Tokyo but also claimed by Beijing.

Ships from Chinese civilian agencies have maintained a steady presence in the area since tensions spiked in September following Japan's purchase of some of the islands from their private owners.

Non-military ships are being replaced by vessels from the coast guard, which was formally inaugurated Monday and merges the resources of four former agencies. China says the move was intended to boost its ability to enforce its maritime claims.