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Friday, January 30, 2015, 17:51

US for Japan air patrols in South China Sea

By Agencies

 US for Japan air patrols in South China Sea
A US Navy FA-18 Super Hornet approaches a KC-135 air refuelling tanker during 'Keen Sword', US-Japan military exercise above the South China sea on Dec 9, 2010. (AFP PHOTO / TOSHIFUMI KITAMURA)

TOKYO - The United States would welcome a Japanese extension of air patrols into the South China Sea, a senior US Navy officer told Reuters.

Regular patrols by Japanese aircraft only reach into the East China Sea, where Japan and China are locked in a territorial dispute.  

"I think allies, partners and friends in the region will look to the Japanese more and more as a stabilizing function," Admiral Robert Thomas, commander of the Seventh Fleet and the top US navy officer in Asia, said in an interview.

"In the South China Sea, frankly, the Chinese fishing fleet, the Chinese coastguard and the (navy) overmatch their neighbors," Thomas said.

Asked about Thomas's statement, China's Foreign Ministry called on all countries to avoid raising tension.

"Countries outside the region should respect the efforts of countries in the region to safeguard peace and stability, and not do things that will drive a wedge between other countries, and create tension," ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying said at a daily briefing.

Thomas's comments show Pentagon support for a key element of Japan Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's push for a more active military role in the region. That is crucial because USand Japanese officials are negotiating new bilateral security guidelines expected to give Japan a bigger role in the alliance, 70 years after the end of World War Two.

A Japanese Defence Ministry spokesman was not available for comment. Japan has never indicated any intention to patrol the South China Sea.

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