Japan protests after Chinese and Russian warships spotted near disputed islands: ‘serious concern’

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With the US focused on the Fourth of July celebrations, tensions in the Pacific rose briefly after Japan spotted the Chinese and Russian warships near the disputed islands of the East China Sea.

This was announced by the Ministry of Defense of Japan. Chinese frigate sailed inside the “contiguous zone”, close to Japanese territorial waters around the Senkaku Islands, which Beijing also calls the Diaoyu Islands, for several minutes on Monday morning.

FILE: A Japanese Coast Guard vessel and boats, rear and right, sail alongside a Japanese activists' fishing boat, center with a flag, near a group of disputed islands called China's Diaoyu and Japan's Senkaku, early Sunday morning, Aug. 1.  18, 2013.

FILE: A Japanese Coast Guard vessel and boats, rear and right, sail alongside a Japanese activists’ fishing boat, center with a flag, near a group of disputed islands called China’s Diaoyu and Japan’s Senkaku, early Sunday morning, Aug. 1. 18, 2013.
(AP Photo/Emily Wang, file)

The sighting came just 40 minutes after the Russian frigate entered the waters for more than an hour, the ministry said.

It did not immediately become clear what was behind the latest Sino-Russian military actions in the area. representatives of the Japanese Ministry of Defense mentioned the possibility that the ships might have been there to avoid a typhoon.

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Deputy Chief Cabinet Secretary Seiji Kihara said Japan had lodged a protest with Beijing, expressing “serious concern” over the incident.

“The Senkaku Islands, historically and according to international law, are an integral part of the territory of Japan. The government will deal with this matter calmly but firmly in order to protect Japanese land, territorial waters and airspace,” Kihara said.

According to him, there was no violation of territorial waters, but noted that the Chinese invasion of the contiguous zone was the fourth such event since June 2016.

Meanwhile, Beijing criticized Tokyo’s protest and called the entry of the frigate “legal and justified.”

“Japan has no right to make such irresponsible statements,” Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian told a press conference, adding that the islands are Chinese territory.

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Japan, for its part, views China’s increasingly assertive military activity in the East China and South China Seas as a threat to regional stability. Tokyo is particularly sensitive to Chinese actions near the disputed islands.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.