Japan’s Defense Ministry said that several Chinese ships were spotted in the area near Japanese territorial waters, moving toward the disputed Senkaku Islands, before they pulled away hours later. The two nations have been at an impasse over who owns the rocky islands in the East China Sea and tensions remain high.
The incident Tuesday morning marked the first time that Chinese warships had entered the contiguous zone between Yonagunijima Island and Iriomotejima Island in Okinawa Prefecture, part of Japan, the ministry said, according to the Yomiuri Shimbun newspaper. Both Okinawa and the Senkaku Islands are located in the East China Sea.
But later, the warships appeared to be moving away from the disputed islands, which are believed to be located near reserves of natural gas and other resources, the Asahi Shimbun reported. The fleet consisted of two Chinese navy destroyers, two frigates, two submarine support vessels, and a supply ship.
“There has been a clear phase change,” one Japanese Defense Ministry representative told the Asahi.
However, Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda’s office stressed that the Chinese ships did not actually pass between the two islands.
“The latest passage was not in the contiguous zone around the Senkakus,” an aide to Noda told the Asahi Shimbun. “China is also becoming more cautious.”
But Chief Cabinet Secretary Osamu Fujimura on Tuesday admitted that Japan is “unsure what China’s intentions are.”
The ships are said to belong to the same group that traveled in waters near the main island of Okinawa on Oct. 4, and were likely doing training exercises, reported the Japan Daily Press.
U.S. Adm. Cecil Haney, who commands the Pacific Fleet, told Japanese broadcaster NHK that the Chinese military needs to be transparent on what its seven naval vessels are doing in waters near Japan.
A diplomatic row between China and Japan erupted several months ago over who should own the Senkaku Islands, known as Diaoyu, in Chinese.
In China, nationalist protesters have attacked Japanese businesses, corporations, and even people over the dispute.
There also appears to be a Chinese regime-orchestrated plan to boycott Japanese companies, which resulted in several companies, including automaker Toyota, suspending production in China in October.
Japanese auto giant Nissan also said it would suspend production at a joint venture in China beginning Sept. 27.
Late last month, Chen Zhifei told New York-based NTD Television: “Japan has played a very critical role in China’s economic development. Even now China’s economy still relies heavily on imported technology, equipment, and products from Japan, so China will suffer devastating consequences if it cuts economic ties with Japan.”
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