Japan’s defense minister said yesterday that Tokyo was investigating an incident in which two Chinese submarines and several warships were spotted in international waters off the southern island of Okinawa.
“We are now conducting a detailed analysis, and will decide on our response after a thorough investigation, including whether there was any intent toward this country or not,” Japanese Defense Minister Toshimi Kitazawa said.
Encounters between China’s growing military and the Japanese navy have increased in the waters between the two countries in recent years. The two governments both lay claim to valuable undersea gas deposits in the region, which they have agreed to jointly develop.
A ministry spokeswoman said there have been at least three cases of groups of Chinese military ships crossing through the area since November 2008. She asked to remain anonymous, citing department policy.
The latest case appeared to be the first involving surfaced submarines, triggering the investigation. The group of ships were observed about 140km southwest of Okinawa in international waters.
Last week, a Chinese helicopter came within about 90m of a Japanese military monitoring vessel that was in the vicinity of a Chinese naval exercise, the spokeswoman said.
Tokyo has asked for an explanation of that incident through diplomatic channels and has been told its request is being considered, she said.
The southern Okinawan islands also have several large US military bases. More than half of the 47,000 US troops in Japan under a security pact are hosted on the islands.
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