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China warship sails near Japan-controlled islands

13 January 2018

China has probed Japan's claimed waters and air space in the East China Sea with a range of assets so far, including aircraft, drones, and surface ships.

China defended the deployment of a naval vessel to the Japan-claimed Senkakus, also known as the Diaoyutai Islands, after Japan issued a warning about the latest move from Beijing's military.

Japan said the large warship entered contiguous waters around the islands at 11:00 local time (02:00 GMT), and a submarine was also detected there, although neither entered Japanese territory.

Vice Foreign Minister Shinsuke Sugiyama summoned Chinese Ambassador Cheng Yonghua to lodge a protest on Thursday.

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Sugiyama expressed "great concern" over the provocations and strongly urged China not to hinder efforts to improve the countries' relationship.

Relations between Japan and China deteriorated in 2012 after Japan bought the disputed islands from a private owner.

Defense Minister Itsunori Onodera said the missile interceptor system Aegis Ashore, to be deployed in Japan, could be used to intercept Chinese cruise missiles, a statement that may not be well received in Beijing. It then re-entered the contiguous zone around Taisho Island, which is part of the Senkakus, before leaving that afternoon.

A Chinese frigate was also observed Thursday entering the zone, prompting Japan to protest that action. It left Thursday afternoon. "This unilaterally heightens tensions", Onodera told reporters.

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Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe responded to the incidents Thursday by giving instructions to prepare for all possible contingencies and to coordinate closely with the USA, according to a statement released by his Cabinet.

China Coast Guard vessels have frequently entered territorial waters around the Senkakus as part of China's claim to the islets. The development prompted sharp criticism from China and triggered frequent intrusions by China Coast Guard vessels into Japanese waters around the islets.

Maritime confrontations and jet interceptions between China and Japan have become commonplace in recent years, especially around the Senkakus.

The last time a submerged foreign submarine was seen anywhere in Japanese contiguous waters was in February 2016.

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Though the Japanese Defense Ministry has not said the submarine was Chinese, the circumstances suggest that it was likely a PLAN vessel.

China warship sails near Japan-controlled islands