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China, Russia vessels sail through Tsugaru Strait for first time, Japan claims

US Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-MN) (L) talks with Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) during a rally with fellow Democrats before voting on H.R. 1, or the People Act, on the East Steps of the US Capitol on March 08, 2019 in Washington, DC. (AFP photo)
A group of naval vessels from China and Russia is seen sailing during joint military drills in the Sea of Japan, in this still image taken from video released on October 18, 2021. (Via Reuters)

A group of Russian and Chinese naval vessels have for the first time on record sailed through a strait separating the Sea of Japan from the Pacific, Japan has claimed.

Yoshihiko Isozaki, Japan's deputy chief cabinet secretary, said in a regular news conference in Tokyo on Tuesday that 10 vessels from China and Russia had a day earlier sailed through the Tsugaru Strait, which separates Japan's main island from its northern island of Hokkaido.

"The government is closely watching Chinese and Russian naval vessels' activities around Japan like this one with high interest," Isozaki told reporters at the presser. "We will continue to do our utmost in our surveillance activity in waters and airspace around Japan."

A Japanese Defense Ministry spokesperson said there had been no violation of Japanese territorial waters and no international rules were broken by the alleged joint passage of the naval vessels.

The development marked the first time Japan confirmed the passage of Chinese and Russian vessels sailing through the Tsugaru Strait, which is regarded as international territory.

Japan's relations with China have long been plagued by conflicting claims over a group of tiny East China Sea islets. Tokyo also has a territorial dispute with Moscow over the Kuril Islands, located near Hokkaido.

From October 14 to 17, Russia and China held joint naval drills in the Sea of Japan as part of naval cooperation between the two countries, involving warships and support vessels from Russia's Pacific Fleet and at least a dozen military aircraft. The two sides have been holding naval drills in the Pacific waters since 2012, when the United States moved to step up military cooperation with its regional allies.

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