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China flexes muscles with drills amid island row

19 october 2012, 12:43
China was set to dispatch naval vessels and aircraft to the East China Sea on Friday, flexing its muscles in exercises likely to further stoke a bristling territorial dispute with Japan, AFP reports.

A fleet of 11 vessels, including some warships, along with eight aircraft were to be sent to waters off its east coast, China has said, in Beijing's most confrontational act yet in a row that has chilled ties between the regional heavyweights.

The one-day exercises were announced late Thursday in a dispatch by official Xinhua news agency that China's defence ministry also posted on its own website.

The drill is aimed at improving China's preparedness to "safeguard territorial sovereignty and maritime interests", according to a statement from the East China Sea fleet, cited by Xinhua.

The defence ministry has made no direct comment on the wargames yet, and it was not immediately clear whether they had begun or exactly where they would take place.

The exercises would mark the latest provocative move in the dispute over the tiny Japan-controlled islets known as the Diaoyu chain in China and the Senkaku islands in Japan.

Tensions in the long-running territorial dispute have soared since the Japanese government's move last month to formally nationalise the islands, which triggered anti-Japan protests across China and hit the sales of Japanese-manufactured products.

China has since then taken a number of steps seen as snubbing Tokyo, including refusing to send top officials to a global economic conference in Japan this month.

China has previously sent maritime surveillance ships and fisheries patrol vessels to waters near the islands as the row has escalated.

On Wednesday, a Chinese naval flotilla passed near separate islands that are internationally recognised as Japanese.

Friday's exercise will include vessels from the marine surveillance agency and fishery administration, according to the Chinese reports, which did not give a detailed breakdown on the vessels.

Japanese Chief Cabinet Secretary Osamu Fujimura told reporters that Tokyo had few details on the drills.

"We decline to comment on the drill, but we will continue monitoring various Chinese moves," he said.

Chinese citizens staged massive demonstrations across the country last month, forcing some Japanese firms to suspend or reduce operations, and a number of official and cultural events held in both China and Japan have been aborted.

Reports this week said Japan and the United States were considering holding a joint military drill to simulate retaking a remote island from foreign forces.

The exercise, part of broader joint exercises to start in early November, would use an uninhabited island in Okinawa, Japanese media reports said, quoting unidentified sources.

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