Defense Minister Taro Kono said Tuesday that a submarine detected near southwestern Japanese islands last week was believed to be Chinese, making a rare announcement concerning the nationality of a foreign submarine that did not intrude into territorial waters.

Kono told a news conference that Japan has confirmed the submerged submarine was traveling from the northeast of Kagoshima Prefecture’s Amami-Oshima Island to the west of Yokoate Island, moving “in the direction of China” through the contiguous zone, or a band of waters adjacent to territorial waters, from Thursday through Saturday.

“Taking into total consideration the various information we’ve obtained thus far, we assumed that the submarine belongs to China,” Kono said, adding the vessel did not violate Japanese territorial waters.

His remark came three days after the Defense Ministry announced that it had detected a foreign submarine passing near the islands, without referring to its nationality.

Kono cited “various circumstances,” including the situation with the Tokyo-controlled, Beijing-claimed Senkaku Islands in the East China Sea, as the reason for his decision to disclose the nationality of the submarine despite the “high secrecy” of such information.

“In addition to conditions in the East and South China seas, we’ve seen various events (regarding China), including its rapid military budget increase, rising tensions with India and pressure on Hong Kong’s ‘one country, two systems,’ so we need to infer clearly the intention of the Chinese Communist Party amid these situations,” Kono said.

The Defense Ministry said it continues to analyze the case as an abnormal action of navigating through such a narrow contiguous zone between the two islands just about 60 kilometers apart, sandwiched by their territorial waters each stretching 12 nautical miles, or around 22 kilometers.

The last time Tokyo made public submarine navigations through its contiguous water areas by other countries was in January 2018, when a Chinese submarine surfaced in international waters flying the Chinese flag on its mast, a day after Japan spotted it just outside Japanese territorial waters near the Senkakus.

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