Japan protests to China after ships approach disputed islands

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TOKYO—Japan summoned China’s ambassador on Thursday after it said detected a submarine and a frigate in waters near islands held by Japan and claimed by China.

The protest set a discordant note for the New Year after signs in the latter part of 2017 that ties between Asia’s two economic giants were beginning to thaw. In November, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe met Chinese President Xi Jinping in Vietnam, and Abe said the two sides were ready for a “new start.”

Thursday’s dispute brought Tokyo and Beijing back to an old subject—the tiny islands in the East China Sea, called Senkaku in Japanese and Diaoyu in Chinese, that both nations say are part of their territory.

Japan said a Chinese Jiangkai II class frigate entered a contiguous zone around the Japanese-held islands on Thursday morning before departing that afternoon. In addition, a submarine went in and out of the contiguous zone around one of the disputed islands on Thursday, Japan said. The contiguous zone isn’t part of a nation’s territorial waters, but its authorities can exercise extra powers in the zone under United Nations rules.

A Defense Ministry official said it was the first time Japan had disclosed the presence of a foreign submarine submerged in the contiguous zone around the disputed islands, although he said the ministry doesn’t necessarily disclose all such cases. The official didn’t say why Japan wanted to make this incident public.

An expanded version of this report appears on WSJ.com.

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