By Eric Talmadge
THE ASSOCIATED PRESS
TOKYO, JAPAN (AP) — Japanese military officials said they were keeping a close eye on seven Chinese warships spotted in waters off a southern island Tuesday, Oct. 16. It was unclear whether the ship movements were related to a territorial dispute that has prompted both countries to show off their maritime muscles.
The Chinese ships were sighted about 30 miles from the island of Yonaguni, in Japan’s Okinawa prefecture, according to Japan’s Defense Ministry. They were about 125 miles from a chain of small islands that have sparked a heated dispute between Japan and China.
The ships were believed to be returning to China after training in the Pacific.
Defense Minister Satoshi Morimoto said Japan is monitoring the ships’ movement. Japan considers the area part of its contiguous waters, but it is not illegal for foreign vessels to transit them.
Japan angered China last month by nationalizing part of a chain of East China Sea islands called Senkaku in Japanese and Diaoyu in Chinese. The move sparked violent protests in China.
Chief Cabinet Secretary Osamu Fujimura said Tokyo has urged Beijing to “avoid any actions that would go counter to the mutual benefit.”
Nearby Taiwan also claims the islands, which are uninhabited, but surrounded by rich fishing grounds and possibly lucrative undersea energy deposits.
China and Japan have recently stepped up naval activities in the area around Okinawa because of the dispute, but there have been no clashes between their warships, which have generally stayed away from the islands themselves.
Wary of missteps that could lead to a sudden escalation of tensions, the countries have instead sent less threatening coast guard ships. Over the past week, however, both have made a point of showing off their naval prowess.
Asked how China sees the reported scenario, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Hong Lei said, “To maintain the peace and stability of Asia Pacific is beneficial to all sides.” He added, “Increasing tension is against the bigger trends of regional security, peace, and the buildup of political and security trust. We reserve the right to take further action.”
Defense Minister Morimoto declined to confirm the scenario or give other details. (end)