TOKYO: Two Chinese government ships sailed into disputed waters off Japan-administered islands in the East China Sea on Monday, the Japanese coastguard said, as Tokyo prepared to strengthen its military posture.
The two vessels were sailing in territorial waters extending 12 nautical miles around one of the Senkaku islands, which China also claims and calls the Diaoyus, as of 10:30 a.m. (1:30 p.m. Manila time).
Since Tokyo nationalized some of the islands in September 2012, Chinese vessels and aircraft have regularly approached them, playing cat and mouse with the Japanese coastguard.
Earlier this month, Japan summoned the Chinese amba–ssador as the two sides traded accusations of blame for a near-miss involving fighter jets over the East China Sea.
It was the second time in less than three weeks that Tokyo had accused Beijing of playing chicken in the skies near the hotly contested islands.
In recent months, China has also intensified its activity in the South China Sea, which it claims almost in its entirety.
The incident comes as Prime Minister Shinzo Abe pushes ahead with a controver- sial plan to loosen the con–straints on Japan’s military and allow it to fight in defense of an ally, something currently banned under the paci- fist constitution.
Beijing has repeatedly warned of what it says is the danger of Japan “remilitarizing” under Abe, and regularly lambasts Tokyo for its apparent lack of repentance for past misdeeds.
Japan’s government will press ahead with divisive plans to loosen restrictions on its military, a top government spokesman said on Monday, despite wide–spread public anger that erupted into a fiery suicide bid by a middle-aged protestor.
Hundreds of people in the busy Tokyo district of Shinjuku watched on Sunday afternoon as a man in a suit set himself ablaze on top of a footbridge, after making a speech opposing moves to let Japan’s well-equipped military fight on behalf of allies.
The dramatic conflagration—a highly unusual act in Japan—was widely discussed on so- cial media in both English and Japanese, with numerous videos and photo–graphs posted by onlookers.
Many Internet users made the connection between the self-immolation and a groundswell of opposition to Abe’s push to relax constitutional rules pre–venting Japan’s armed forces from going into battle.
However, the issue received scant coverage in the mainstream media, with none of the national newspapers using a picture in their short reports.
National broadcaster NHK, whose chairman caused outrage earlier this year by suggesting that the state-funded body should not contradict the prime minister, did not cover the self-immolation on the day.
At least two private broad–casters did, using footage that had been posted on YouTube.
The government’s chief spokes–man Yoshihide Suga, on Monday refused to comment on the suicide attempt, which he said was a police matter, but con–firmed that the cabinet would push ahead on Tuesday with plans to change the interpretation of part of the pacifist constitution.
Under the current reading, Japan’s large and well-trained military is barred from taking any action, except in very-narrowly defined circumstances in which the country is under attack.
“We are in the final stage of the coordination between the ruling parties,” Suga told reporters.
“Once the consensus is made between the ruling parties, we will have it approved by the cabinet tomorrow,” he added.
The plans by the conservative premier to increase his country’s military options are supported by the United States, Tokyo’s chief ally, but are highly controversial at home, where voters are deeply wedded to the pacifism Japan adopted after World War II.
The latest polls show at least half of respondents are against a more aggressive military stance.
The liberal daily Mainichi said at the weekend that 58 percent of voters are opposed, while 80 percent feel the government has more explaining to do. In its poll published on Monday, the Nikkei business daily said 50 percent of respondents are against the change.