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Chinese warship near Senkakus a possible test of Japan-U.S. alliance

BEIJING -- The Chinese government has stopped short of reacting to reports that a Chinese military vessel sailed for the first time into a contiguous zone just outside Japanese territorial waters near the Senkaku Islands in Okinawa Prefecture early on June 9.

Chinese media only quoted Japanese media reports in announcing that four Chinese and Russian military vessels sailed into the contiguous zone near the Diaoyu Islands, the Chinese name for the Senkaku Islands.

The Chinese military's latest move is regarded as aimed at checking the U.S. military's freedom of navigation operations in the South China Sea, as well as a "reaction test for the strengthened Japan-U.S. alliance," according to a security source.

On June 8, three patrol vessels of the China Coast Guard sailed into the territorial waters of the Senkaku Islands, followed by an announcement by China's State Oceanic Administration that the vessels "patrolled our territorial waters." A day earlier, a Chinese fighter flew abnormally close to a U.S. reconnaissance plane, obstructing the latter's flight above the high seas in the East China Sea.

Hong Lei, deputy director general of the Department of Information at the Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs, commented that China has been "taking heed of related media reports" about a Japan-U.S.-India joint exercise to be held off the east of Okinawa Prefecture from June 10. It is likely that all these moves are closely linked to its warship's sailing into the contiguous zone near the Senkakus on June 9.

China has taken the view that Japan's security-related legislation that went into effect in March, allowing Japan to exercise the right to collective self-defense, is "aimed at putting pressure on China by linking the issues over the East China Sea and South China Sea through the strengthened Japan-U.S. alliance."

After meeting with Japanese officials at the Asia Security Summit in Singapore, Sun Jianguo, deputy chief of staff for the People's Liberation Army's General Staff Department, said, "We'd like to continue to promote defense exchanges" in response to signs of improvement in Japan-China relations, while calling on Japan to "exercise restraint in commenting" on the South China Sea issue.

Meanwhile, the Russian media, as of early June 9, made virtually no reports over the Russian military ships' sailing in the contiguous zone near the Senkakus, nor did Moscow show any official reaction to the move.

Russia has taken a neutral position over territorial disputes, arguing that such conflicts should be resolved through peaceful negotiations between countries concerned. Russia has also called for abiding by the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea, which guarantees freedom of navigation in the open sea.

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