By Seiichiro Takeuchi in Beijing
At his regular news conference on Jan. 11, Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Lu Kang repeated the usual argument that the submarine and naval vessel entering the contiguous zone near the Senkaku Islands were there because they were “following and keeping watch on Maritime Self-Defense Force vessels.”
It is obvious that even though the Xi Jinping regime is looking for ways to stabilize diplomatic relations with neighboring countries and is going along with the Abe administration’s efforts to improve the Japan-China relationship to a certain extent, it is asserting that “this does not mean compromising” on the Senkakus, which China claims to be “an integral part of its territory,” according to a Communist Party of China source. There is also an opinion that the latest move was meant to “test Japan’s reaction amid the overall mood of improvement of relations.”
A military source said that it is “a matter of common knowledge on both sides” that there is an ongoing contest between China’s improved submarine capability and Japan’s anti-submarine patrol capability in the East China Sea and waters near the Senkakus. It is highly possible that the Chinese navy is stepping up submarine activities there, including the collection of seabed topography data in the East China Sea.
The Chinese navy is building its third aircraft carrier and accelerating its development of Chinese-made nuclear-powered submarines.
On Jan. 3, President Xi, in his capacity as chairman of the Central Military Commission, issued an unusual order for all units of the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) to start actual combat training. It is believed that on the occasion of the New Year, Xi renewed efforts to tighten his control over the PLA to boost his leadership over the military. (Slightly abridged)