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Japan Summons Chinese Envoy After Naval Ship Nears Disputed Islands
China sent a warship for the first time on Thursday into disputed waters near a group of Japanese-controlled islands in the East China Sea, the Japanese government said.
Japanese officials said they had summoned the Chinese ambassador in Tokyo around 2 a.m., after the warship, a frigate, was spotted less than 24 nautical miles from the uninhabited island chain, known as the Senkaku in Japan and the Diaoyu in China. The ship left after about two hours, the officials said.
China regularly sends nonmilitary patrol vessels to the area, where they engage in cat-and-mouse chases with the Japanese Coast Guard. But it was the first time in the long and sometimes tense dispute over the islands and their surrounding waters that China has used a naval ship to so directly challenge Japan's control, the officials said.
"China's actions unilaterally escalate tensions in the area, and we are seriously concerned," Yoshihide Suga, the Japanese chief cabinet secretary, said at a news briefing. Prime Minister Shinzo Abe ordered the Japanese Navy and Coast Guard to be on alert, Mr. Suga added.
China's Ministry of National Defense did not explicitly confirm that the ship had entered the disputed waters, but it defended its right to send vessels there.
"We've noted the relevant reports," the ministry said in a statement. "The Diaoyu Islands and affiliated islands are Chinese territory. For China's military vessels to pass through waters under the country's own jurisdiction is reasonable and legitimate, and other countries have no right to make irresponsible comments."
Beijing's Coast Guard vessels often pass near the islands, and three did so as recently as Wednesday, according to the Chinese maritime authorities. The country's Coast Guard is a civilian force, but the government has modernized its ships to the point where they are powerful vessels.
Japan, along with the United States, its close ally, has struggled to reckon with China's growing influence in Asia's seas. China declared an air defense zone over much of the East China Sea in 2013, including the areas that it disputes with Japan, and it has patrolled the zone with fighter jets.
In the South China Sea, Japan has supported the Obama administration in objecting to China's development of disputed reefs and outcrops into artificial islands with military facilities. The United States has sent warships past the reefs as a way to demonstrate that it does not recognize Chinese sovereignty.
China's sail-by on Thursday seemed calculated to send a similar message. It came just two days after Secretary of State John Kerry and his Chinese counterpart, Yang Jiechi, exchanged sharply divergent views over the South China Sea at a meeting in Beijing, and two weeks after a gathering of Group of 7 leaders in Japan, at which Japanese officials placed discussion of China's maritime activities high on the agenda.
The Chinese frigate entered a band of ocean around the disputed islands that Japan claims as a so-called contiguous zone — an area just beyond a country's exclusive territorial waters where it can exert a limited degree of control, like by patrolling for activity it considers illegal. Many countries, including the United States, assert such zones.
Japanese vessels were in contact with the Chinese frigate as it approached the contiguous zone and warned it for about two hours to change course before it entered, officials in Tokyo said.
In a complicating twist, Japan said two Russian vessels were also spotted in the islands' contiguous zone around the same time, though it was unclear whether their presence was connected with that of the Chinese frigate. Japanese officials said they did not protest the entry of the Russian vessels.
"China has its own particular claim" to the area, said the Japanese vice foreign minister, Akitaka Saiki. "Russia doesn't, so we distinguish between Chinese and Russian actions and respond accordingly."
[Source: By Jonathan Soble, International New York Times, Tokyo, 09Jun16]
East China Sea Conflict
|This document has been published on 13Jun16 by the Equipo Nizkor and Derechos Human Rights. In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107, this material is distributed without profit to those who have expressed a prior interest in receiving the included information for research and educational purposes.|