Japan Warns China, Manila Approves Security Deal

File photo

By Reuters 2016-01-12 20:17:34

Japan said on Tuesday it has told China that any foreign naval vessel that enters Japanese waters for reasons other than "innocent passage" will be told to leave by a Japanese naval patrol, signaling a potential escalation in a long-running dispute.

Japan had informed China of its decision in November, after Chinese navy ships sailed near disputed isles in the East China Sea known as the Senkaku in Japan and the Diaoyu in China, Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga told a news conference.

Japan's government, Suga said, had approved the course of action last May.

"If a foreign naval vessel transits our waters for (purposes) other than 'innocent passage', we will order a sea patrol and take the step of having the Self-Defense Force unit order withdrawal," Suga told a news conference.

Japan refers to its military as a Self-Defense Force.

Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Hong Lei, asked about the remarks, said China was determined to protect its territory, repeating its standard line that the islands had been Chinese "since ancient times".

"At the same time we do not want to see a rise in tensions in the East China Sea and are willing to appropriately manage, control and resolve the issue via dialogue and consultations," Hong told a daily news briefing in Beijing.

Suga's comments followed a Yomiuri newspaper report that Japanese navy ships would be sent to urge Chinese naval ships to leave if they came within about 22 km (12 nautical miles) of the islands for reasons other than "innocent passage".

The tiny islands are under Japan's control. The dispute over them has been a major sticking point in the countries' often contentious relations in recent years.

The official China Daily reported on Tuesday China's coast guard was preparing to launch a new, large, armed vessel, which could be assigned to cover the South China Sea, where China has territorial disputes with several Southeast Asian neighbors.

The 12,000 ton ship will be armed with one 76-mm cannon and anti-aircraft guns, the newspaper said. Most Chinese coastguard ships are unarmed or only have water cannons.

In Manila, the Philippines Supreme Court declared a security deal with the United States to be constitutional on Tuesday as anti-American protesters rallied outside, allowing an increased U.S. military presence in the former U.S. colony as tension rises in the South China Sea.

Manila has long been a staunch U.S. ally and the pact is widely seen as important for both sides, which are worried by China's increasingly assertive pursuit of territorial claims in the disputed South China Sea.

The court voted 10-4 to deny a petition of some lawmakers and activists to declare the Enhanced Defence Cooperation Agreement (EDCA) unconstitutional because it surrendered Philippine sovereignty to a foreign power.

The pact was signed days before U.S. President Barack Obama visited the Philippines in 2014. It will allow U.S. troops to build facilities to store equipment for maritime security and humanitarian and disaster response operations, in addition to broad access to Philippine military bases.

Separately, China's military has set up 15 new units - covering everything from logistics to equipment development, political work and fighting corruption - as part of an on-going drive to modernise the world's largest armed forces, China's Defense Ministry said on Monday.

President Xi Jinping's push to reform the military coincides with China becoming more assertive in its territorial disputes in the East and South China Seas. China's navy is investing in submarines and aircraft carriers and its air force is developing stealth fighters.

Late last year Xi inaugurated a general command unit for the army, a missile force and a strategic support force for People's Liberation Army (PLA), and the 15 new units follow on from that decision.

The Defence Ministry, in a statement released late on Monday, said the new units would help the military function better and consolidate the Communist Party's control.

One of the 15 new departments is a dedicated auditing office, which will "organise and guide audits and supervision for the entire military" and strive to be independent, the ministry said, without giving details.

The PLA is reeling from Xi's anti-corruption campaign, which has seen dozens of officers investigated, including two former vice chairmen of the Central Military Commission, Guo Boxiong and Xu Caihou.