TOKYO • A Japanese submarine has for the first time joined a naval drill in the South China Sea, the Ministry of Defence said yesterday, in an expansion of Japanese activity in the disputed waterway claimed by China and others.
The submarine Kuroshio took part in the exercise last Thursday with other Japanese warships, including the Kaga helicopter carrier, which is on a two-month tour of South-east Asia and the Indian Ocean, a ministry spokesman said.
It was the first time a Japanese submarine had conducted drills there.
The exercise, which involved the submarine trying to evade detection, was conducted away from island bases built by China to push its claims in the strategic sea.
However, the exercise could still anger China because submarines represent a greater potential menace to shipping than surface vessels.
Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Geng Shuang, when asked about the exercise, said China "urges the relevant external country to respect the efforts made by regional countries to resolve the South China Sea issue through talks".
"Act with caution and don't take any acts that could damage peace and stability in the region," he added.
China claims virtually the entire South China Sea. Brunei, Malaysia, the Philippines, Taiwan and Vietnam also have claims.
Chinese naval ships and monitoring stations on its fortified islands routinely challenge foreign aircraft and vessels in the region, sources have said previously.
Last month, a British Royal Navy amphibious assault ship, HMS Albion, sailed close to islands claimed by China in the South China Sea to exercise "freedom of navigation" rights. Britain's first such operation led to a strong protest from China, which sent aircraft and a naval vessel to meet the British ship.