Japan Coast Guard needs to strengthen defense structure for Senkaku Islands

REUTERS/Ruairidh Villar
Japan Coast Guard vessel PS206 Houou sails in front of Uotsuri island, one of the disputed islands, called Senkaku in Japan and Diaoyu in China, in the East China Sea August 18, 2013.

China’s attempts to coercively change the status quo of the Senkaku Islands should not be tolerated. It is important to strengthen the security system of the Japan Coast Guard.

The JCG asked for a record ¥252.7 billion in its budgetary request for fiscal 2022. With the construction of patrol boats among other costs, the amount has greatly increased, by 25%, from the initial budget for this fiscal year.

Already this year, China Coast Guard vessels have entered the contiguous zone off the Senkaku Islands in Okinawa Prefecture on more than 230 days. This is almost the same pace as last year when incursions on a record 333 days were recorded.

It is becoming commonplace for China Coast Guard vessels to make lengthy intrusions into Japanese territorial waters and approach Japanese fishing boats. They apparently want to pretend to exercise jurisdiction as if the islands were part of Chinese territory.

These actions infringe on Japan’s sovereignty and violate international law. Trying to make these moves established practice is totally unacceptable.

The JCG has maintained a system of numerical superiority and has called on China Coast Guard vessels to leave Japan’s territorial waters.

Currently, however, the JCG has 69 large patrol boats, while the China Coast Guard possesses nearly twice as many vessels, making it more difficult for the JCG to patrol territorial waters. In 2016, there was a case in which 15 Chinese government vessels, along with a large number of Chinese fishing boats, gathered around the Senkaku Islands.

In February this year, China enforced coast guard legislation that stipulates the authority of the China Coast Guard to use weapons. China is expected to increase the number of China Coast Guard ships dispatched to the waters around the Senkaku Islands and make the ships bigger and better armed.

The JCG needs to be prepared to prevent contingencies from occurring.

The budgetary request included the construction of four large patrol boats. Of these, three are in the 3,500-ton class, larger than the 1,000-ton class ships that constitute the current main security force for the Senkaku Islands. It is vital to improve the enhancement of patrol boats in a planned manner.

The JCG also intends to introduce an unmanned aircraft for the first time. The unmanned aircraft will be operated via satellite to fly continuously for more than 30 hours and operate more efficiently than manned aircraft on which personnel need to be rotated, according to the JCG.

Japan has a vast exclusive economic zone, and North Korean and Chinese fishing boats have entered the Yamatotai bank area, bountiful fishing grounds off the Noto Peninsula. It is necessary to use the unmanned aircraft effectively for wide-area surveillance and search.

Securing personnel is also an urgent task. It takes time to train crews for JCG vessels. In addition to recruiting new graduates, every possible step should be taken, such as hiring those who have experience in the field and can be immediately effective, including former Maritime Self-Defense Force personnel, and reappointing JCG retirees.

This year, the JCG conducted three joint drills with the MSDF. It also carried out its first joint exercise with the U.S. Coast Guard on the handling of suspicious ships and foreign fishing boats. In anticipation of diverse situations, it is important for the JCG to further deepen cooperation with the Self-Defense Forces and other organizations.

— The original Japanese article appeared in The Yomiuri Shimbun on Sept. 15, 2021.