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The Chinese navy last week sent some of its most modern warships, including two Luzhou-class missile destroyers and three Jiangkai II-class frigates, to the islands.

U.S. Navy officials were less concerned about previous incursions because they were carried out by unarmed or lightly armed maritime surveillance ships.

The latest dispatch of front-line warships represents an escalation of pressure by China and a sign Beijing is stepping up claims to the islands that are believed to contain large undersea reserves of gas and oil.

According to U.S. officials, in the past year, Chinese ships have made 322 maritime incursions in both territorial Senkaku waters and nearby seas. The previous year the number of similar incursions was 17.

Other new military developments included China’s first aircraft violation of Senkaku airspace in December 2012, and three drone surveillance flights near the islands.

One of the most significant incidents took place Sept. 8 when two Chinese H-6 strategic nuclear bombers flew through the Miyako Strait, located south of Japan’s Okinawa prefecture and near the Senkakus. It was the second time Chinese aircraft made a provocative flight through the strait and followed earlier warship passages through those waters.

In the past year, Japanese jet fighters were scrambled 386 times to intercept Chinese aircraft, compared to 142 intercepts the previous year.

The stepped up military incursions are a sign Beijing is attempting to solidify its territorial claims to the islands it calls Diaoyou, a U.S. official said.

NSA SPYING UNDER FIRE

Ongoing disclosures of National Security Agency electronic spying following the large-scale document theft carried out by fugitive former contractor Edward Snowden are increasing pressure for new restrictions on the U.S. spy agency.

Concerns are growing among analysts, including current and former NSA and Pentagon officials, that the latest disclosures of U.S. electronic eavesdropping on European leaders are likely to increase pressure on President Obama to further curb NSA monitoring.

In August, the president directed a panel of specialists — known as the Review Group on Intelligence and Communications Technologies — to study how electronic spying protects national security, advances foreign policy and respects civil liberties. The group will present its report to the president in two months.

NSA Director Keith B. Alexander on Tuesday made an impassioned appeal for continued NSA spying that he said is vital for protecting against terrorist attacks and other threats.

The agency is having a “tough time” in terms of public trust as a result of Mr. Snowden’s ongoing disclosures through reporter Glenn Greenwald of Britain’s Guardian newspaper and others, many of them misleading and inaccurate.

“When we get together, we don’t whine,” Gen. Alexander said. “Well, maybe a couple of times we whined. But we actually say it is much more important for this country that we defend this nation and take the beatings than it is to give up a program that would result in this nation being attacked.”

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