BEIJING (AFP) – China's state media lauded the country's maritime power Friday after navy vessels completed their first circuit around Japan.
Beijing has been looking to expand its bluewater reach, launching its first aircraft carrier last year, and the circumnavigation of Japan sends a symbolic signal with Beijing and Tokyo at loggerheads over disputed islands in the East China Sea.
China has "crossed all the strongest parts" of the islands that stretch from Japan's northern tip to the Philippines in the south and separate it from the Pacific Ocean, said Du Wenlong, a senior researcher at a People's Liberation Army academy, according to the state-run China Daily.
China's navy is "capable of sending and supporting its warships to navigate and fight in channels far from the continent", the newspaper quoted Du as saying.
As well as the row with Tokyo, Beijing also claims almost the whole of the South China Sea, leading to disputes with several littoral states.
Du's remarks came days after five Chinese military ships circled the Japanese archipelago for the first time, the China Daily said.
Five Chinese ships returned to port on July 28 after passing through the Soya Strait, which divides northern Japan and Russia, before travelling down Japan's east coast and traversing the Miyako strait off Okinawa, the newspaper added.
Japan's defence ministry has said that patrol aircraft spotted five Chinese vessels sailing through a sea lane between Okinawa and the Miyako islands to the southwest, although they did not enter Japanese waters.
Tensions between China and its neighbours have risen in recent years, as China has boosted its naval capacity and asserted its maritime claims.
"The Chinese navy must grow into a blue water navy because all of the aggression against China in modern times came from the sea," the China Daily quoted Ou Jianping, of China's National Defence University, as saying.
China's newly-appointed President Xi Jinping has also vowed to boost his country's naval capacity since taking the ruling Communist Party's top post in November.