High-sea chase after Japan spots Chinese sub

Japan was on alert on Wednesday after a suspected Chinese nuclear submarine entered its territorial waters, setting off a chase on the high sea amid mounting disputes between the Asian powers.

The submarine was detected in Japanese waters near islands disputed with China about 300km south-west of Okinawa, a southern Japanese island home to a major United States military base, officials said.

Japan was following the submarine with a PC-3 surveillance airplane, a destroyer and at least one navy helicopter, a military spokesperson said.

“The submarine is cruising in international waters and it is not necessarily cruising straight. The PC-3 is continuing to follow it,” Chief Cabinet Secretary Hiroyuki Hosoda, the government spokesperson, told reporters.

The Kyodo News agency, quoting unnamed defence sources, said the vessel was a nuclear submarine from China.

The incident comes amid a series of disputes between Japan and China, including friction over the right to explore gas near the maritime border in the East China Sea.

Japanese officials declined to place blame on China.

“We are not in the stage for passing judgement before knowing where the submarine is heading and other details,” Hosoda said.

Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi said only that the incident was “regrettable”.

“It certainly is not a good thing,” Koizumi told reporters. “We have to continue to monitor the situation.”

A Defence Agency spokesperson said Japan had between Friday and Monday spotted two Chinese ships near southern Japan—one designed to rescue submarines and the other to tow wrecked ships.

The Chinese ships were in international waters about 1 000km south of Tokyo, the spokesperson said.

Asked if the Chinese ships had a link with Wednesday’s submarine incident, the spokesperson said: “We don’t know.”

Japan wants the submarine to surface and show its flag, but has not given orders to attack the vessel as it is in international waters, the Defence Agency spokesperson said.

Jiji Press said the vessel was in Japanese waters for about three hours.

Hosoda said the submarine was found near Okinawa’s Sakishima island chain, which lies close to islands disputed between China, Japan and Taiwan.

The only other time Japan has ordered such a hunt was in March 1999, when two suspected North Korean ships were spotted off the coast of the Japan Sea, also known as the East Sea. A plane dropped 12 bombs as a warning.

Okinawa, which hosts about 65% of the more than 40 000 US forces in the country, is closer to Taiwan and China than to the Korean peninsula.

China feels deep resentment over Japan’s alleged refusal to admit its atrocities during its occupation from 1931 to 1945—a feeling reinforced by Koizumi’s regular visits to a Tokyo shrine that honours the war dead, including convicted war criminals.

Six Japanese lawmakers in a report to Parliament on Wednesday recommended slashing aid to China, noting that Beijing tolerates anti-Japanese sentiments and is making its own loans to other countries.

Outrage over strategy report

China voiced outrage on Tuesday after a leaked Japanese report said defence planners in Tokyo were preparing strategies in the event of a Chinese attack.

The Japanese study, reported on Monday by Kyodo News, said China is trying to strengthen its military power to “demonstrate its capability to Taiwan and the US, and will be the greatest military power in the Asia-Pacific region in the future”.

The report envisioned three scenarios for a Chinese attack on Japan, including one focused on Okinawa in which China would try to stop US forces from helping Taiwan in the event of a conflict with the island, which China regards as its territory.

Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Zhang Qiyue Zhang on Tuesday accused Japan of a “Cold War mentality” and said it is not certain that President Hu Jintao will meet Koizumi when they attend a regional meeting in Chile this month.—Sapa-AFP

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