China man in balloon bound for disputed islands crashes

A hot-air balloon drifting in the East China Sea near the disputed isles known as Senkaku in Japan and Diaoyu in China, in a photo released 2 January 2014 The man launched the balloon from China's Fujian province in an attempt to land on one of the islands

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A Chinese man flying a hot air balloon to a group of disputed islands had to be rescued after his balloon crashed, Japan's Coast Guard has said.

The man, who said he was a cook, was heading to an East China Sea island chain controlled by Japan, known as Senkaku in Japan and Diaoyu in China.

The man had been handed to a Chinese patrol ship, the coast guard said.

The islands are close to potential oil and gas reserves, and are a source of tension between the two countries.

The Japanese Coast Guard said they received a request to search for a missing person on Wednesday afternoon.

They found the man and the hot air balloon around 20km (12 miles) from the islands. The man was not hurt, reports said.

The 35-year-old launched the hot air balloon from Fujian province in an attempt to land on one of the disputed islands, officials said.

They said the man was in Japanese territorial waters, but decided against pursuing charges as they could not determine the exact place he had landed, Japan's Kyodo news agency reported.

One of the disputed islands, in an image released by the Japanese Maritime Self-Defence Force on 15 September 2010 The islands are close to shipping lanes and potential oil and gas reserves

The islands have been a source of tension between China and Japan for decades.

In 2012, the Japanese government bought three of the islands from their Japanese owner, sparking mass protests in Chinese cities.

Since then, Chinese ships have repeatedly sailed in and out of what Japan says are its territorial waters.

In August 2012, Japanese police arrested 14 pro-China activists who sailed from Hong Kong to the islands, with some setting foot on one of the islands.

Sino-Japanese tensions have also been strained by China's newly-declared air-defence identification zone - which covers an area of the East China Sea, including the islands - and by Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's visit in December to a shrine that honours war dead including convicted war criminals.

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