Don’t let China Normalize Intrusions into Waters off Senkaku Islands

Attempts to force a change in the status quo in which Japan effectively controls the Senkaku Islands in Okinawa Prefecture can never be accepted.

Japan should not only strongly protest China’s violations of international law, it should also expedite discussions on concrete measures to deal with the issue, including the preparation of domestic laws.

Regarding China’s entry into Japanese territorial waters near the Senkaku Islands, the Chinese Defense Ministry has stated its position that law enforcement activities within the Chinese territorial waters “are legitimate and undisputed, and will continue to be carried out normally.”

China apparently wants to stress its stance of regarding the area around the Senkakus as its territorial waters and enforcing its laws there. This is clearly an infringement of Japan’s sovereignty and should never be tolerated.

Chinese government ships have entered the contiguous zone near the Senkaku Islands on a daily basis and have frequently gone into Japanese territorial waters. In February, Chinese government ships intruded into Japanese territorial waters on six days, the highest number in 4½ years. Each time, they tailed Japanese fishing boats and some of them were confirmed to be carrying what appeared to be guns.

In February, China put into force the coast guard law strengthening the authority of the China Coast Guard, which is the country’s maritime security organ. It is a dangerous act to test the response of Japan and the United States by raising the level of provocation in tandem with the inauguration of U.S. President Joe Biden’s administration. More caution is needed.

During the recent telephone talks among the foreign ministries of Japan, the United States, Australia and India, Japanese Foreign Minister Toshimitsu Motegi expressed grave concern over China’s coast guard legislation and agreed to oppose any unilateral attempt to change the status quo.

Self-righteous behavior that violates international law is not only a direct threat to Japan, but also harms the stability of the Indo-Pacific region. The Japanese government must cooperate with the international community to press China to refrain from actions that would heighten tensions.

China’s coast guard law specifies that the use of weapons by the China Coast Guard is allowed if China judges that its sovereignty or jurisdiction has been infringed. The possibility cannot be ruled out that Japanese fishing boats and Japan Coast Guard vessels will be fired upon around the Senkaku Islands.

The Japanese government has said there are cases in which firing shots that could injure the other party are permitted, such as if a Chinese government ship attempted to land on the Senkaku Islands.

Are current laws sufficient to deal with such cases? If there are any inadequacies, it is essential to revise the laws and take other measures to establish a system that can deal with any situation.

If a situation occurs that the JCG cannot handle alone, an order will be issued to the Maritime Self-Defense Force to conduct maritime security operations.

On March 3, the JCG and the MSDF conducted a joint drill in waters west of Kyushu on responding to suspicious ships. It is important to cooperate closely on a regular basis so that they can deal with contingencies smoothly.

In light of the growing size of Chinese government ships, it is also urgent to strengthen Japan’s response capabilities through such measures as enhancing JCG patrol vessels.

— The original Japanese article appeared in The Yomiuri Shimbun on March 4, 2021.