China defends patrols in waters near disputed East China Sea islands held by Japan

Associated Press

BEIJING, China - China on Wednesday defended its increasingly assertive patrolling near disputed East China Sea islands controlled by Japan, as tensions in the area continue to run high.

The actions constitute "routine patrols and law enforcement in China's territorial waters around the Diaoyu Islands," Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Hong Lei said at a regularly scheduled news conference.

"This was a normal official activity intended to exercise jurisdiction. This deserves no criticism," Hong said.

That followed an encounter Wednesday between ships from the Japanese Coast Guard and China Marine Surveillance near the islands, known as Senkaku in Japan and Diaoyu in China. Each side broadcast their claim of sovereignty to the other and the brief incident ended when the ships dispersed, Japan said.

Hong's statement came as Beijing announced several days of intense naval exercises in the Western Pacific involving seven ships commanded by the missile destroyer Harbin. The co-ordinated actions set several new precedents for the Chinese navy involving anti-submarine warfare, precision attack, and other sophisticated manoeuvring, state broadcaster CCTV reported.

While apparently unrelated to the feuding with Japan, the drills come as Beijing is flexing its maritime muscle to assert its claims in the South China and East China seas.

China has sent ships into the area on numerous occasions since Japan's nationalization of some of the islands in September. China also cancelled its scheduled attendance at a defence forum in Tokyo this week along with other exchanges to show its pique.

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