061020-N-5067K-043 South China Sea (Oct. 20, 2006) - The Essex Amphibious Ready Group (ARG) sails in a combined formation during an amphibious exercise. The ARG is comprised of the amphibious assault ship USS Essex (LHD 2), dock landing ship USS Harpers Ferry (LSD 49), and amphibious transport dock USS Juneau (LPD 9). The other ships that were present were guided-missile destroyer USS Stethem (DDG 63) and the Philippine navy ship Artermio Ricarte (PS 37). Essex and the 31st Marine Expeditionary Unit (MEU) are in the Philippines participating in bilateral exercises, Exercise Talon Vision (TV 07) and Amphibious Landing Exercise (PHIBLEX 07), with the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFR). Essex is the NavyÕs only forward-deployed amphibious assault ship and is the flagship for the Essex Amphibious Ready Group based in Sasebo, Japan. U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 1st Class Michael D. Kennedy (RELEASED)

Japan said Thursday (Jan 11) it was tracking a Chinese frigate in waters surrounding islands in the East China Sea, the first such incursion in more than a year near the flashpoint isles claimed by both countries.

Japanese navy ships spotted the 4,000-tonne Jiangkai II class frigate around 11am (0200 GMT) in waters surrounding the Tokyo-administered isles, called Senkaku in Japan and also claimed as the Diaoyu islands by China.

Japanese defence ministry spokesman Go Yamaguchi told AFP that a submarine of unknown nationality had also been spotted entering the contiguous waters off the disputed islands.

Contiguous waters are a 12-nautical-mile band that extends beyond territorial waters.

Under international rules, they are not the preserve of any single country, although the resident power has certain limited rights.

“We are monitoring the vessels and sending a message to them that they entered the contiguous waters near Japanese territory,” said Yamaguchi.

The official told AFP it was the first such incursion since June 2016.

Relations between Japan and China deteriorated in 2012 when Tokyo “nationalised” some of the islets.

Since then, the two top Asian economies have taken gradual steps to mend fences but relations remain tense.
Chinese coastguard vessels routinely travel around the disputed islands.

Japan’s vice foreign minister Shinsuke Sugiyama met Chinese ambassador Cheng Yonghua later Thursday but no details of the meeting were immediately available and neither official commented to the media.