TOKYO • Japan yesterday accused a Chinese spy ship of entering its territorial waters as Tokyo conducted a joint exercise with the United States and India.
But China's Defence Ministry said in a statement that its ship passing the Tokara Strait was in line with the principle of freedom of navigation endorsed by the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea.
Japan quickly voiced concerns over the "intrusion" as it came less than a week after another Chinese naval vessel sailed near islands at the centre of a Tokyo-Beijing sovereignty dispute in the East China Sea.
"The Chinese military vessel moved in after an Indian ship sailed into Japan's territorial waters as it participated in a Japan- US-India joint exercise," Defence Minister Gen Nakatani told reporters.
Japanese Defence Ministry officials declined to speculate why the 6,000-ton "information-gathering" vessel sailed into the area, but Mr Nakatani said China, as Japan's neighbour, must act "carefully".
A Japanese navy surveillance aircraft spotted the Chinese ship at around 3.30am (1830 GMT on Tuesday) in territorial waters near Kuchinoerabu island in southern Japan, said Mr Hiroshige Seko, a government spokesman.
Tokyo did not immediately say by how much the Chinese ship breached its territorial waters, which international law stipulates are a 12-nautical-mile band offshore.
The area is part of a Japanese island chain that divides the East China Sea and the Pacific Ocean, and is not subject to the territorial dispute.
China's navy was conducting a "normal exercise" and passing through international waters in the Tokara Strait where "all countries can have the right of innocent passage", Foreign Ministry spokesman Lu Kang said in Beijing.
"There is no need to provide notification or to get authorisation in advance," Mr Lu told a regular briefing. "So if Japan insists on hyping up this issue in the media, we have to question its motives."
In a similar claim, the United States said yesterday another Chinese observation ship shadowed its aircraft carrier John C. Stennis in the Western Pacific as the carrier prepared for the drills with Japan and India.
The encounter came one day after reports that the US Navy's Third Fleet will send more ships to East Asia to operate outside its normal theatre alongside the Japan-based Seventh Fleet.
The Third Fleet's Pacific Surface Action Group, which includes the guided-missile destroyers USS Spruance and USS Momsen, was deployed to East Asia in April.
More Third Fleet vessels will be deployed in the region in the future, said a US official who requested anonymity.
He and a second official said the vessels would conduct a range of operations, but gave no further details.
REUTERS, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE