US Ally Detects China Spy Ship Near Coast

Japan on Monday revealed the presence of a Chinese military spy ship near its shores, a day before the country’s top diplomat warned of ongoing efforts in the region to “change the status quo by force.”

The Beijixing, the Chinese navy’s sole Type 815 or Dongdiao-class intelligence-gathering vessel, was spotted 25 miles southeast of the Kusagaki islets as it moved from the East China Sea toward the Pacific Ocean at 1 a.m. local time on April 13, according to a report by the Joint Staff of Japan’s Self-Defense Forces.

The Joint Staff releases regular updates about Chinese and Russian ship and aircraft movements around the Japanese archipelago.

Newsweek‘s map, recreating using Japan’s geospatial data, shows the vessel later transiting the Osumi Strait south of Kyushu, the third-largest of Japan’s main islands.

Japan said its Maritime Self-Defense Force dispatched the Murasame-class destroyer JS Ariake from Sasebo and a P-1 maritime patrol aircraft from Kanoya—two cities in Kyushu—to monitor the Chinese ship.

China commissioned the Beijixing more than three decades ago and later built the successor classes Type 815G and Type 815A, both of which received the NATO reporting name Dongdiao II. The newest spy ships—launched 2016 onwards—are distinguishable by the flat top of their front radome, while the older classes still retain a spherical shape.

China Spy Ship Moves Japanese Islands
This image published on April 15 by the Joint Staff of Japan’s Self-Defense Forces shows the Chinese navy’s Type 815 or Dongdiao-class intelligence ship Beijixing transiting the Osumi Strait two days earlier.

The ships specialize in electronic and signals intelligence collection and often appear near U.S. and allied naval exercises or along neighboring coastlines.

The Beijixing is assigned to the Chinese navy’s East Sea Fleet, headquartered in Ningbo in eastern Zhejiang province.

The Joint Staff report identified it as the same ship that had only just returned from Pacific operations on April 10. At the time, it was accompanied by two Chinese destroyers as the flotilla sailed northeast through the strategic Miyako Strait between the Japanese islands of Miyako and Okinawa.

The Chinese Defense Ministry could not be reached for comment on the Beijixing‘s operations.

On Tuesday, Japan’s Foreign Ministry published its annual Diplomatic Bluebook, in which Yoko Kamikawa, Tokyo’s top diplomat, said that Russia’s ongoing invasion of Ukraine posed a “serious challenge” to the existing international order.

“Attempts to unilaterally change the status quo by force continue around Japan,” Kamikawa said in the foreword, without directly naming China, hinting at ongoing territorial disputes between the neighbors in the East China Sea.

Her ministry’s report included lingering concerns about China’s assertiveness activities throughout the Indo-Pacific, which it said had pushed it to strengthen its alliances and partnerships with others in the region.

However, Tokyo also left open the possibility of dialing down tensions, calling for a “constructive and stable” relationship based on “common strategic interests.”

It was an apparent reference to a phrase revived at a high-level bilateral summit last year, when Tokyo and Beijing marked half a century of formal ties.

China’s Foreign Ministry did not immediate respond to a written request for comment.

China Spy Ship Moves Japanese Islands
This image shared by a Weibo user on March 8, 2023, shows the Chinese navy’s Type 815A or Dongdiao II-class intelligence ship Yuhengxing operating off China’s coast at an undisclosed location.