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Japan's Coast Guard Seeks to Boost Maritime Patrols in East China Sea


In a move expected to further worsen already poor relations with China, Tokyo is preparing to significantly boost its defense patrols in disputed areas in the East China Sea.

Japanese officials on Friday confirmed that the country's Coast Guard plans to deploy new vessels and aircraft in the East China Sea around a disputed underwater gas field.

The Japan Coast Guard is expected to win approval of a one-year budget request of about a quarter of a billion dollars. The money will be spent on 21 new boats and seven new jets, in addition to replacing a number of older ships and aircraft.

The Coast Guard says the extra patrol boats and planes reflect increasing Japanese concern about Chinese exploration and military activities around the contested gas fields.

China has dispatched warships to the area in recent months and Japanese and U.S. government officials say the military vessels have acted provocatively by "locking onto" or targeting Japanese patrol planes with radar.

John Tkacik is the senior China analyst for the Heritage Foundation, a U.S. based policy research institute. He says the Japanese are responding to deliberate provocations by Beijing meant to test the U.S.-Japan alliance.

"These guys [the Chinese] are getting pretty aggressive," he said. "They want to see what will the U.S. do. Will the U.S. go in and defend Japan from us in this economic zone? Or will the U.S. say, well no, the Japanese JDA naval forces have to go in and defend themselves first and we'll back them up. Will this cause a tension in the alliance? And if so, hurray, that's what we want to do."

The governing Liberal Democratic Party says it wants Japan to spend several billion dollars over the next seven years to protect Japanese ships in the country's waters.

Tensions have been rising between China and Japan recently as both countries begin exploiting resources in a maritime region where their exclusive economic zones overlap.

Japan has accused China of ignoring international boundaries and extracting resources from the Japanese side.

The relationship between the two countries has been deteriorating for a year, in large part because of what Beijing considers a lack of remorse by Japanese for their brutal aggression in China in the early 20th century.

Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi has exacerbated the issue by repeatedly visiting a shrine where Japanese war criminals are honored.