MSDF tracks China armada off Okinawa

Kyodo News

Two Chinese submarines and eight destroyers were spotted by the Maritime Self-Defense Force on Saturday heading southeast between the main island of Okinawa and Miyako Island, Okinawa Prefecture, Defense Minister Toshimi Kitazawa said Tuesday.

Defense officials have never before confirmed such a large Chinese armada on the high seas near Japan, he said, adding, “We will investigate whether (China) has any intention against our nation.”

The Joint Staff Office of the Self-Defense Forces said later that Chinese submarines were running on the surface near Japan for the first time and Beijing had not notified Tokyo of the fleet movement in the East China Sea toward the Pacific Ocean.

The MSDF destroyers Choukai and Suzunami spotted the Chinese warships near the Nansei Islands about 140 km west-southwest of Okinawa Island around 8 p.m. Saturday. The Chinese vessels conducted refueling Sunday, the Joint Staff Office said.

Some of the Chinese destroyers engaged in helicopter operations between April 7 and Friday in the East China Sea and one of the choppers flew within around 90 meters of the Suzunami, the office said.

Japan has made an inquiry to China through diplomatic channels about the submarine activity and lodged a protest over the helicopter’s approach, which it deems dangerous.