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China sent an aircraft carrier and five escort ships, including a destroyer likened to the U.S. Navy’s Aegis-class vessels, through the Miyako Strait near Okinawa over the weekend in a signal of its growing ability to counter U.S. and Japanese military power farther from its shores, reports Jesse Johnson.

Experts said the move highlighted the Chinese military’s ability to punch through the so-called first island chain, stretching from the Kurils and the Ryukyus to Taiwan, the Philippines and Indonesia. Last month, three Chinese naval vessels, also including a large guided-missile destroyer, were spotted in the Strait of Tsushima, north of Kyushu, sailing into the Sea of Japan.

Interestingly, Japan’s Defense Ministry revealed Friday that the U.S. Navy conducted a freedom of navigation operation through the same strait in December, in a move that clashes with Tokyo’s claims of sovereignty. The move was likely meant to signal to China that the U.S. is serious about the freedom to sail through international waters — even when it annoys an ally.

China's Liaoning aircraft carrier sails through the Miyako Strait near Okinawa over the weekend. | JAPAN DEFENSE MINISTRY / VIA KYODO
China’s Liaoning aircraft carrier sails through the Miyako Strait near Okinawa over the weekend. | JAPAN DEFENSE MINISTRY / VIA KYODO

Meanwhile, declassified U.S. documents obtained by Kyodo show that the United States instructed its navy in June 1978 to suspend use of a firing range that Japan had provided as a training ground in the disputed Senkaku Islands over fears that it could become embroiled in a Sino-Japanese territorial row.

Perhaps that was sensible. Any activity on the islets has the potential to snowball into a serious international incident, which is why the Okinawa police also plan to set up a special section to prevent Japanese right-wing activists and others from trespassing on the Senkakus, Jiji reports.

On the political front, a ruling Liberal Democratic Party panel on maritime security and defense issues approved a draft proposal last week for the government to strengthen Japan’s coast guard and Self-Defense Forces in the face of increased security threats posed by China around the Senkakus.

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