5 April: Japan’s Defense Ministry has reported that a Chinese missile destroyer has made a close passage near Japan and Taiwan, sparking concerns over the rising military activities of China in the region.
According to the ministry, the Maritime Self-Defense Force (MSDF) spotted a Chinese Renhai-class destroyer sailing northwest in the Pacific Ocean about 60 kilometers south of Yonaguni Island, the westernmost island of Japan, on Tuesday.
The ministry said the Chinese ship then sailed between Yonaguni Island and Taiwan, entering the East China Sea. It said the ship continued to travel north in the waters about 70 kilometers west of Uotsuri Island, one of the disputed Senkaku Islands, before heading back to China.
The Senkaku Islands are controlled by Japan, but claimed by China and Taiwan. The Japanese government maintains that the islands are an inherent part of Japan’s territory, while China and Taiwan call them Diaoyu and Tiaoyutai, respectively.
The ministry said that on Monday, the same Chinese ship was sailing south between Okinawa’s main island and Miyako Island to reach the Pacific Ocean. This means that the Chinese destroyer circled around the southwestern half of Okinawa Prefecture’s islands group in two days.
The ministry said the ship did not enter Japan’s territorial waters or the contiguous zone, which extends 12 nautical miles from the territorial waters. However, it said it expressed concern about the ship’s actions to Beijing through diplomatic channels.
This is not the first time that a Chinese navy ship has passed through between Yonaguni Island and Taiwan. In March, a Chinese survey vessel was also spotted sailing north in the same area. The ministry said it is analyzing the purpose of the Chinese ship’s voyage.
The incident comes amid growing tensions between Japan and China over various issues, including maritime security, human rights, trade and historical disputes. Japan has also been strengthening its security ties with Taiwan, which China regards as a renegade province that must be reunited with the mainland by force if necessary.
Japan’s Defense Minister Nobuo Kishi recently said that Japan would cooperate with other countries to ensure peace and stability across the Taiwan Strait, which he called a “very important sea lane” for Japan. He also said that Japan would respond firmly to any attempt to change the status quo by force in the East China Sea.
China has been increasing its naval presence and activities in the Indo-Pacific region, often sending its ships and planes near Japan’s islands and waters. China has also been conducting joint naval exercises with Russia in the western Pacific, which Japan described as “unusual”.
Japan has been enhancing its defense capabilities and readiness to deal with potential threats from China. It has also been working closely with its allies and partners, such as the United States, Australia and India, to promote a free and open Indo-Pacific vision.