TOKYO • Japan said yesterday it was monitoring waters near islands disputed with China in the East China Sea, after it spotted a naval intelligence ship from the country operating in a new area for the first time.
Japan's Defence Ministry said late on Thursday that a P-3C patrol aircraft observed the Dongdiao-class intelligence vessel near territorial waters of the Senkaku Islands, which Japan administers but China claims as the Diaoyu Islands.
The ship repeatedly moved back and forth in the area until Thursday evening before departing, never breaching Japan's 12-nautical mile territorial waters, the ministry statement said.
Japanese Defence Minister Gen Nakatani called the ship's moves "unusual" at a regular press conference yesterday. He declined to comment on the ship's aims but stressed that the Chinese military is "rapidly boosting their activities at sea and in the air".
The Defence Ministry will keep monitoring the Chinese navy and "make utmost efforts in patrolling the sea and air surrounding Japan", Mr Nakatani said.
In Beijing, the Chinese government defended the ship's operations. "The Chinese naval vessel is conducting normal activities," spokesman Hong Lei told a regular briefing. "It is in line with international law," he added. "There is nothing disputable about that."
Japan and China have routinely butted heads over ownership of the uninhabited islets, as Chinese state ships - mostly coast guard - and aircraft have approached them on and off to back up Beijing's claims and test Japan's response.
Anonymous sources from the ministry told the Asahi Shimbun newspaper that the Chinese ship may have been on an intelligence mission ahead of a Japanese naval drill this month.