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Japan protests after Chinese naval frigate spotted near disputed islands

Japan on Thursday lodged a formal protest after a Chinese naval frigate was spotted on patrol near disputed islands in the East China Sea.

Japanese Maritime Self-Defense Force ships spotted a Chinese Jiangkai II class frigate on patrol Thursday morning through the maritime contiguous zone around the Senkaku Islands.

The islands are are under Japanese control but are also claimed by China, which calls them the Diaoyu islands.

Japan summoned Chinese ambassador Cheng Yonghua. Foreign affairs minister Shinsuke Sugiyama “issued a protest by expressing serious concerns and strongly requested China not to interfere with the flow of improving Japan-China relations,” AFP reported the foreign ministry as saying.

The uninhabited islands, strategically located east of China and southwest of Japan, are important for maritime shipping and fishing and lie near potential oil and gas reserves. Japan has controlled the islands since 1972 when they were handed over by the United States. China maintains that they have been important fishing grounds for hundreds of years. Taiwan calls them the Tiaoyutai Islands and asserts its own claim.

Chinese foreign ministry spokesperson Lu Kang said on Thursday that the Chinese naval vessels were conducting surveillance of the Japanese.

China has sailed in the area since 2012 when the Japanese government purchased three of the islands from a private owner.

Thursday’s incident was the first incursion by Chinese ships into the waters claimed by Japan since last August, when a flotilla of more than 300 Chinese fishing boats and 15 coast guard ships patrolled the islands for a week, prompting protests by the Japanese.

With reporting from AFP

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