Protect Nation’s Interests through Enhanced Warning, Surveillance Capabilities

China, which has been proclaiming itself a sea power, is threatening maritime areas where Japan’s sovereignty and rights reach. The government must take every possible measure to protect its maritime interests.

The government has released a draft of its Basic Plan on Ocean Policy, which lays out guidelines for its maritime policy. The plan has been formulated about every five years based on the Basic Law on Ocean Policy enacted in 2007, and the next plan will be the fourth version. The Cabinet will soon approve the draft after the public comment period.

Japan boasts the world’s sixth-largest sea area in terms of its combined territorial waters and exclusive economic zone (EEZ). The seafloor contains a wide range of mineral resources, including rare earths. Maintaining order and stable management of the oceans is directly related to the country’s national interests.

The draft is characterized by its emphasis on preparedness for armed attack situations. It pointed out the importance of not only establishing in advance procedures for the defense minister to command and control the Japan Coast Guard, but also conducting joint drills between the Self-Defense Forces and the JCG.

China Coast Guard vessels have repeatedly intruded into Japanese territorial waters around the Senkaku Islands. The draft probably referred to the response to contingencies out of awareness of the harsh reality that unforeseen circumstances could arise at any time.

If heavily armed fishermen from another country were to occupy a remote island of Japan, the JCG alone would be unable to handle the situation. The SDF and the JCG should conduct drills together under various scenarios and clarify the division of roles.

The draft also pointed to the need to improve undersea surveillance capabilities, coming out with a policy to encourage the development of autonomous underwater vehicles (AUVs), known as underwater drones.

Last year, a Chinese oceanographic research vessel put observation equipment underwater without permission in the EEZ off Ishigaki Island. China has also actively conducted surveys around the island of Okinotorishima. It is believed that the purpose of the survey is to investigate mineral resources.

China’s self-righteous activities cannot be overlooked. The government needs to take firm action against Beijing and strengthen its warning and surveillance capabilities.

The draft emphasizes the development of businesses such as offshore wind power generation as well.

Offshore wind power generation is currently being introduced at Noshiro Port in Akita Prefecture and elsewhere. In Japan where shallow seas are scarce, however, there are few suitable sites for bottom-fixed wind turbines, which are installed on the seafloor. For this reason, the draft calls for the installation of floating wind turbines in the EEZ.

While the aim of promoting renewable energy is understandable, there are many issues to be addressed. When installed in the EEZ, transmission cables become longer, increasing the risk of damage. Installation costs are also high.

For practical use, it will be necessary to support technological development while determining cost-effectiveness.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, April 5, 2023)