Chinese submarine enters Japanese waters

Thursday, November 18, 2004

Tenuous relations between Japan and the People's Republic of China were strained last week when a Chinese nuclear-powered submarine entered Japanese territorial waters southwest of Okinawa.

The intrusion occurred on 10 November, Japanese time (UTC+9). The submarine was quickly spotted by Japan's Self-Defence Forces and was tracked by helicopter as it wandered in Japanese waters for two hours before moving north-west. International law requires a tracked submarine to surface and identify its nationality in times of peace; the submarine did not do so.

Many Japanese officials in the Defence Agency considered the intrusion an act of provocation and "showing off," as the submarine in question was a particularly noisy model. It continued traveling very slowly after being spotted, and remained in shallow waters. The intrustion caused Japanese Self-Defense Forces to go on alert for the second time since the Second World War.

The submarine in question is believed to be a Type 09-1 Han Class attack submarine. It is a nuclear-powered submarine designed in the 1950s and first built in the 1974. This class of submarine is thought to suffer numerous defects, including radiation leakage, noise, and an inability to fire missiles while submerged. Only two of five submarines are thought to be operational. China has recently begun an active modernization of its navy.

On 17 November, Chinese Vice Foreign Minister Wu Daiwei met with the Japanese ambassador to China Anami Koreshige in Beijing and offered an apology for the incident, stating that the submarine was on a training mission and the intrusion was due to a "technical error" and was "regrettable." Japan's Defence Agency is studying whether "technical errors" is a feasible explanation for the incident.

Japanese Prime Minister Koizumi Junichiro has publicly stated he wishes to speak with Chinese President Hu Jintao about this and other matters of Sino-Japanese contention at the upcoming annual Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation summit in Chile later this month.

Despite the increasingly close economic ties between the two nations, distrust has long exisited between Japan and China. Many Chinese people still resent the Japanese invasion and occupation of China during World War II and Japan's refusal to formally apologise. Japan, on the other hand, sees China as a potential competitor and an increasing threat to its national security.

Japan's Constitution forbids the nation from exercising military strength in matters other than that of self-defence, but Japan's ruling party, the Liberal Democratic Party or LDP, has recently proposed constitutional amendments to give the military more offensive capabilities, among other things.


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