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16 Aug, 2013 10:41

China’s military flexes muscles in East China Sea amid Japan war shrine tensions

China’s military flexes muscles in East China Sea amid Japan war shrine tensions

China has launched four days of live-fire naval exercises in the East China Sea that coincide with the anniversary of Japan’s defeat in WWII. The exercises come after Japanese Cabinet ministers visited Tokyo’s most controversial war shrine.

China and South Korea, which both suffered under Japan’s militarist expansion in the 1930s and 40s, have expressed concern at Japanese Cabinet ministers’ visit to the Tokyo Yasukuni Shrine as glorification of the country's militaristic past and aggression. Established in 1869 and funded by the Imperial Japanese government until 1945, the shrine has been dedicated to the nation's 2.5 million war dead, including – controversially – 1,000 convicted war criminals.

The Chinese Foreign Ministry summoned Japan's envoy and issued a statement condemning the visits by nearly 100 Japanese lawmakers, saying they "fundamentally attempt to deny and gloss over Japan's history of invasion."

According to the Hong Kong-based South China Morning Post, the East China Sea drills will be conducted off the coast of Zhejiang province by the East Sea Fleet, which oversees the waters around the disputed Diaoyu Islands.

Earlier this month, on August 8, four Chinese coast guard vessels stayed a record 28 hours in waters near islands claimed by Japan and China. Japan summoned the Chinese envoy in Tokyo to lodge a formal protest. The latest intrusion into Japanese territorial waters near the Senkaku Islands in the East China Sea by Chinese ships was twice as long as the last one, on February 4. Chinese ships have been entering the disputed area regularly since last September, when the Japanese government bought the islands.

China and Japan have long struggled for the ownership of supposedly oil-rich islands located in the East China Sea. The islands are known as the Diaoyu to the Chinese, and Senkaku to the Japanese. The dispute over the islands and the maritime boundaries around them has continued for years. The Senkaku Islands have been controlled by Japan since 1895, but China insists that it has historic rights to them dating back to the 16th century.

The standoff escalated after Tokyo announced the purchase of three of the islands from a private Japanese owner in September of last year. After that, China witnessed mass anti-Japanese demonstrations. A diplomatic scandal led to problems in bilateral economic relations, with Japanese businesses withdrawing investment. Several Japanese companies in China suspended their work for security reasons, and Chinese Customs’ clearance of goods slowed from Japan.

The tiny archipelago of islands, which is halfway between both countries, are currently uninhabited, but the ground below could house significant mineral resources.

"It is expected that there will be more drills in the East China Sea to build up the combat capabilities of the Chinese Army," Ni Lexiong , director of the Sea Power and Defense Policy Research Institute at the Shanghai University of Political Science and Law, told the South China Morning Post. "It is also possible that China's aircraft carrier will participate in some of these drills."

China News Service reported that Liaoning, the country's first aircraft carrier, which it refitted after buying a Soviet-era vessel from Ukraine, has also been dispatched from its home port of Qingdao, in Shandong province, for training of ship-borne aircraft in the East China Sea. The ship is reportedly sailing to the northern Bohai Sea, off Liaoning province, where a separate round of military exercises was launched on Thursday.