08/11/2016, 15.43
ASIA
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Boating accidents and atoll militarisation raising tensions in Asia-Pacific seas

At dawn, a Chinese fishing boat sank after colliding with a Greek cargo ship off the Senkaku. Japan’s Coast Guard rescued six sailors. Up to 300 Chinese fishing boats recently sighted near Japanese waters. Washington confirms its support for Tokyo against Beijing. China strengthens its military installations on atolls.

Beijing (AsiaNews/Agencies) – A Chinese fishing boat sank shortly after colliding with a Greek cargo ship in the East China Sea, the Japan Coast Guard said.

The incident occurred near the disputed Senkaku group of islets, (Diaoyu for China),  following increased activities in recent days by Chinese ships in the waters close to the Japan-controlled, China-claimed territory.

A coast guard patrol ship rescued six crew members of the fishing boat and searched for other missing crew following the boat’s dawn collision with the freighter Anangel Courage about 65 kilometres off the largest of the Senkaku. The Chinese government thanked Japan for its timely action.

The Japanese coast guard based in Naha, Okinawa Prefecture, has recently been on high alert since it detected increased operations by Chinese government vessels and fishing boats in the disputed waters.

Some to 300 Chinese fishing boats were spotted sailing in the so-called contiguous zone just outside territorial waters, with some entering Japanese waters, prompting Tokyo to lodge repeated protests with Beijing.

China’s ambassador to Japan, Cheng Yonghua, said on Wednesday that recent large-scale sailings of Chinese fishing and government vessels around disputed islands in the East China Sea were due to a “big catch of fish” seen in the area. 

The United States has expressed support for Japan in the dispute in the East China Sea.

“We oppose any unilateral action that seeks to undermine Japan’s administration of the Senkaku Islands,” State Department spokeswoman Elizabeth Trudeau said at a press briefing on Wednesday.

At the same time, Trudeau reaffirmed that the Senkaku Islands have been under Japanese administration since the reversion of Okinawa in 1972.

Beijing's "imperialist" policy in the Asia-Pacific region seas, especially its militarisation of a group atolls in the South China Sea, although denied in official statements, is exacerbating the growing tensions in the area.

Satellite images (pictured) appear to show China building aircraft hangars, confirming that Chinese military fighter jets could, at some point, be based on Fiery Cross, Subi and Mischief Reefs.

In addition, each islet also hosts a mysterious group of three towers. There is speculation that such structures are in fact reinforced air defence facilities which could house surface-to-air missile batteries.

Such a move is raising the level of confrontation – verbal so far - with the region’s other nations (mainly Vietnam) and the United States, concerned about who controls the area.

Satellite photos confirm the pace and scope of China's military build-up on the disputed atolls and coral reefs where, only two years ago, there was nothing, especially hangar construction that could accommodate Chinese fighters.

Responding to China’s increased militarisation, Vietnam has recently began deploying a new defensive system aimed at China on some atolls it controls.

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