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China Navy Conducts East China Sea Exercises Amid Japan Row

China’s navy will conduct exercises in the East China Sea to better coordinate missions to protect Chinese territory, Xinhua News Agency said, a move that may heighten tensions with Japan over disputed islands.

Today’s exercises with the fishery administration and the marine surveillance agency will involve 11 ships and eight aircraft, Xinhua reported yesterday, citing a statement from the navy’s Donghai fleet.

“When carrying out missions in disputed waters, patrol vessels of the fishery administration and marine surveillance agency have been stalked, harassed and even intentionally interfered with by foreign vessels, greatly challenging their duties,” Xinhua said, citing the statement.

The exercises may further strain China’s relationship with Japan in the aftermath of Chinese protests that flared last month when Japan bought islands claimed by both sides from their private owner. The dispute over the area, which is rich in gas, oil and fish, has damaged trade ties worth $340 billion.

“I’m aware of the reports,” Japanese Chief Cabinet Secretary Osamu Fujimura told reporters today in Tokyo. “The government does not have any details of the actual content of the exercises, so I will refrain from commenting further. In any case there is no change to our basic stance of continuing to pay close attention to China’s moves.”

Emergency Response

The drill is aimed at improving emergency response in missions to “safeguard territorial sovereignty and maritime interests,” according to the statement. It says the navy has conducted “several” exercises with the fishery administration and surveillance agency in the past.

Xinhua’s announcement of the exercises came a day after the news agency issued a commentary saying that Japanese opposition leader Shinzo Abe’s visit to a shrine honoring Japan’s war dead Oct. 17 was a provocative act that “would further poison bilateral ties.” It said the visit comes at a “delicate moment” and “added insult to injury.”

China protested again yesterday after two Japanese Cabinet ministers also visited the Yasukuni shrine, where men convicted of war crimes are among those honored. Yasukuni is viewed in China and Korea as a symbol of Japan’s military atrocities during its occupation of Asia in the first half of the 20th century.

Fujimura yesterday said the government had no further comment on the visits because the ministers went in a “private capacity.”

Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Hong Lei told a briefing in Beijing yesterday that Japan should “face the international community in a responsible manner.”

China maintains that it’s owned the East China Sea islands, called Senkaku in Japanese and Diaoyu in Chinese, for centuries. Japan argues it took control of them in 1895, lost authority after World War II, and had them returned by the U.S. in 1972.

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