Beijing (AsiaNews/Agencies) - China's Navy has sent warships near Japan's territorial waters, the Japanese Defence Ministry announced today. The ships, including two destroyers, were spotted less than 50 kilometres from Yonaguni Island on Tuesday. The island is inhabited and is internationally recognised as Japanese. For some analysts, the move is a provocation related to the disputed Diaoyu/Senkaku Islands.
In addition to the two destroyers, one of which has a missile capability, the Chinese flotilla includes two frigates, two submarine rescue ships and one supply ship.
"They were moving north, from the Pacific Ocean to the East China Sea," a Japanese Defence spokesman said.
"They were in contiguous waters, 44 kilometres southwest of Nakanokamishima," a defence ministry spokeswoman said separately.
Contiguous waters lie just outside territorial waters and are governed by international maritime law.
China's provocation is meant to signal Beijing's intention to reiterate its long-standing claims to the islands, which the Chinese call Diaoyu and the Japanese Senkaku.
Last Friday, after two months of growing tensions, Tokyo announced it was ready to engage China in diplomatic talks. Since August, demonstrations in China had affected bilateral economic relations.
It is not clear how valuable the islands are. They are seen by some as strategically important because they are located at the intersection of various maritime routes. They are also thought to have rich fishing grounds. The seabed might also contain vast gas reserves.
In 2008, the governments of China and Japan signed an agreement on joint development and research on the island chain, but it never materialised.