Japan says China subs, warships came near Okinawa

TOKYO (AP)— Two Chinese submarines and several warships were spotted in international waters off Japan’s southern island of Okinawa at the weekend, and Tokyo is investigating what the military vessels were doing there, the defense minister said Tuesday.

Encounters between China’s growing military and the Japanese navy have increased in the waters between the two countries in recent years. The two governments both lay claim to valuable undersea gas deposits in the region, which they have agreed to jointly develop.

Okinawan islands also have dozens of U.S. military bases. More than half of the 47,000 U.S. troops in Japan under a security pact are hosted on the islands.

“We are now conducting a detailed analysis, and will decide on our response after a thorough investigation, including whether there was any intent toward this country or not,” Defense Minister Toshimi Kitazawa said of the presence of the Chinese vessels.

A ministry spokeswoman said there have been at least three cases of groups of Chinese military ships crossing through the area since November 2008. She asked to remain anonymous, citing department policy.

The latest case appeared to be the first involving surfaced submarines. The group of 10 ships, including the submarines, was observed about 90 miles (140 kilometers) southwest of Okinawa in international waters Saturday.

Two missile destroyers and three frigate ships from the same group were spotted participating in a flight exercise of carrier-based helicopters April 7-9, the Defense Ministry’s Joint Staff Office said in a statement Tuesday.

“We must closely watch Chinese military activities around our territorial waters,” Adm. Keiji Akahoshi, the Navy chief of staff, said, adding that China has modernized its military equipment and upgraded its capability in recent years.

Last week, a Chinese helicopter came within about 300 feet (90 meters) of a Japanese military monitoring vessel that was in the vicinity of a China naval exercise, the ministry spokeswoman said.

The flight posed a danger to the Japanese vessel, the Joint Staff Office said.

Tokyo has asked for an explanation of that incident through diplomatic channels and has been told its request is being considered, the spokeswoman said.