Chinese ships in Japanese strait raises concerns about regional role

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 22 October, 2008, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 22 October, 2008, 12:00am

Concerns are being raised in Japan about the expanded cruising range by the People's Liberation Army's navy in the Pacific after four Chinese combat ships sailed through a Japanese strait on Sunday.

Japan's Defence Ministry said it had located four PLA combat ships in the Tsugaru Strait, which separates the main island of Honshu with the northern island of Hokkaido, stressing that it was the first time Chinese navy vessels had sailed into Japanese waters, NHK reported yesterday.

It said the Joint Staff Office of the Self-Defence Forces had seen the four combat vessels - two frigates, including the Jiangkai II, the most advanced frigate in the PLA navy, plus a destroyer and a supply ship - in the Sea of Japan around 5pm. They sailed east through the strait and were spotted by a maritime Self-Defence Force P3C patrol plane in the Pacific Ocean at 10pm, NHK's English channel cited a spokesman of the ministry as saying.

The Jiangkai II had been located on Friday near the Tsushima Strait in western Japan and is believed to have joined the other vessels after moving north in the Sea of Japan, it said.

'The sailing of the Chinese navy vessels this time might be a normal drill, or have other purposes. We don't know,' the report quoted a spokesman of the ministry as saying. 'We are analysing the real purpose of their activity.'

The ministry stressed that the PLA navy had expanded its range of activities in the Pacific Ocean over the past years, the NHK said.

As new Prime Minister Taro Aso, who has been very hawkish on Sino-Japanese relations, took office last month, the activity of PLA navy vessels around Japan raised concerns.

Japan was affected by the melamine tainted milk scandal, as some cake and bread manufacturers used milk from China.