In the latest round of tensions to erupt in the East China Sea, Japanese officials say a Chinese warship was spotted for the first time near disputed islands that Japan claims control over.
The islands are called Senkaku in Japan, and Diaoyu in China, and while China regularly sends nonmilitary patrol vessels to the area, this was the first time a Chinese warship was spotted. Japan's Vice Foreign Minister Akitaka Saiki summoned the Chinese ambassador in Tokyo around 2 a.m. to express serious concern over the matter. The warship, a frigate, was spotted less than 24 nautical miles from the uninhabited island chain the NYT reports.
The above islands are known as Senkaku in Japan, and Diaoyu in China
The Chinese frigate entered a band of ocean around the disputed islands that are just beyond exclusive territorial waters in what Japan claims as a "contiguous zone." Japanese vessels were in contact with the Chinese frigate as it approached the zone and warned it for about two hours to change course before it entered.
"China's actions unilaterally escalate tensions in the area, and we are seriously concerned" said the Japanese chief cabinet secretary Yoshihide Suga at a news briefing, while adding that Prime Minister Shinzo Abe ordered the Japanese Navy and Coast Guard to be on alert.
China responded in kind, with the Ministry of National Defense saying "We've noted the relevant reports. 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 claims."
In an interesting 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 the Chinese frigate. Japanese officials said they did not protest the Russian vessels.
Japanese foreign minister Akitaka Saiki said that "China has its own particular claim, Russia doesn't, so we distinguish between the Chinese and Russian actions and respond accordingly."
Of course the situation begs the question whether or not Russia and China were working the East China Sea together in a show of somy type of solidarity with one another, or was it purely a "coincidence" that on the heels of all of the US led tension in both China and Russia lately that the two would both be in the same waters just after the US promised to keep its military might in the region for "decades to come."
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The islands have been long disputed between the two nations, recall that back in 2012 anti-Japan sentiment exploded in China when the Japanese government purchased the islands from a private owner, something China of course viewed as illegal.
The event spurred riots in China, and the protests got so severe that Japanese firms with production within China had to shut down, with expatriates urged to stay indoors. The situation further escalated to the point where in late 2013, China unveiled an "Air Defense Identification Zone" in the region, which required that any overflights submit their plans to Beijing in advance.