BEIJING--A Chinese naval flotilla sailed between two islands in the Okinawa chain Nov. 28, a maneuver that the state Xinhua News Agency called an exercise to escort a "large surface vessel."
China has only one such warship: a recently inaugurated aircraft carrier, which is currently undergoing sea trials.
The flotilla sailed eastward, passing between the main Okinawa island and Miyakojima, before entering the Western Pacific.
There is sufficient water between the two isles for ships to pass without entering Japanese territorial waters, but the area is Japan's exclusive economic zone, and under certain circumstances foreign military exercises there could be seen as a challenge to Japanese territorial integrity.
It is the seventh time this year that Chinese naval vessels have taken that route, said the Japanese Defense Ministry.
The latest fleet comprised the guided missile destroyers Hangzhou and Ningbo, of the East China Sea Fleet; the Zhoushan and Maanshan missile frigates; a supply ship; and helicopters deployed aboard the vessels. The East China Sea Fleet command is located in Ningbo, Zhejiang province.
Experts said the moves are part of preparations to begin operations involving the 67,000-ton Liaoning, China's first aircraft carrier.
In a separate close encounter on Oct. 16, seven Chinese naval vessels, including destroyers and submarine rescue ships, sailed within a contiguous zone between Iriomotejima and Yonagunijima, Japan's westernmost islands. However, that time, too, the vessels remained outside Japan's territorial waters.
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