Chinese Spy Ship Shadows U.S., Japan, And Indian Fleets During Eight-Day Naval Exercise Amidst Growing Tensions Over Disputed Territories

A Chinese spy ship shadowed a U.S. aircraft carrier that was joining Japan and India for naval exercises Wednesday close to Western Pacific waters that China considers to be in its backyard, Reuters is reporting.

The USS John C. Stennis had joined nine other naval ships, a Japanese military helicopter, and Indian frigates off the Japanese island of Okinawa. Patrol planes that expose submarine vessels also joined the fray.

The show of naval strength from the United States, Japan, and India comes amid the growing influence of China in the Western Pacific region. where it continues to expand its territorial claims bordering the South China Sea and build new islands.

Beijing has been angered by the naval exercises conducted, particularly by U.S. military patrols that have been seen close to Chinese islands. The U.S. has insisted that the patrols are to preserve freedom of passage. In a separate incident, Tokyo said a Chinese spy ship had entered its sovereign waters Wednesday close to the southern island of Kyushu. China said it was acting within the confines of marine law and also adhering to the principles of free navigation.

Captain Gregory C. Huffman, commander of the USS John C. Stennis, told journalists aboard the aircraft carrier that shortly after it recovered F-18 jet fighters taking part in the exercise, they had noticed a “Chinese vessel about seven to ten miles away… the Chinese ship had followed us from the South China Sea,” he said. The Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman said he was not aware of the recent development between the countries.

A Japanese Maritime Self Defense Force officer who refused to be identified because he had no authority to speak with the media said the U.S. aircraft carrier would separate from the other naval ships and serve as a decoy to the observatory ship from China during the eight-day naval exercise.

Japan is aligning with the U.S. in the Pacific drills to curb Beijing’s expanding power in the region. India, on the other hand, has joined both countries in the exercise because of China’s growing influence in the Indian Ocean. Four naval ships from India are part of the exercise and plan to tour the South China Sea, making stops in Vietnam and the Philippines.

The three countries hope to curtail China’s unrestricted access in the Western Pacific and teeming threat to as many as 200 islands that start from Japan’s major islands stretching to the East China Sea, 60 miles from Taiwan. Japan is leaving no stone unturned and is reinforcing these islands with anti-ship missile batteries and radar surveillance stations. Japan is hoping that its alliance with the U.S. and India will help halt Chinese threats over its sovereignty. Recently, tensions between Tokyo and Beijing hit new heights after a Chinese warship for the first time breached territorial waters and sailed within 24 miles of disputed islands in the East China Sea.

China already lays claim to most of the South China Sea, where over $5 trillion dollars is made in trade every year. It is a lucrative but heavily disputed area, with Malaysia, the Philippines, Vietnam, Taiwan, and Brunei all laying claims to the region. The U.S. Navy Third Fleet remains cautious of China’s presence in the area and plans to send more ships to support Japan’s Seventh Fleet. The U.S. Third Fleet comprises of an aircraft carrier strike group, 140 aircraft, and 80 vessels. The Japanese Seventh Fleet has over 100 vessels, including four aircraft carriers.

Chinese officials are placing the blame for the rising tensions in the region squarely on the United States. China’s ambassador to Britain, Liu Xiaoming, said, “China was talking to the neighboring countries. We had a Declaration of Conduct. And the Philippines was talking to us. Once the Americans came in, so-called `rebalancing,’ things, changed dramatically. They want to find an excuse to have their strong military presence in the South China Sea and in the Asia Pacific.”

[Photo by China Photos/Getty Images]

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