Senkaku Islands Situation: Japan Must Do More Than Just Protesting China’s Intrusions

With Japan only repeating its protests when there is an infringement of its maritime jurisdiction, China is likely to take advantage of this situation. It is essential for the Japanese government to clearly show its stance of defending the nation’s territory and deal with the situation firmly.

Last month, a Japan Coast Guard patrol boat spotted a Chinese oceanographic survey vessel extending a wire-like object into the water within Japan’s exclusive economic zone (EEZ) off the Senkaku Islands.

The patrol boat issued a demand on the spot that the survey be stopped as survey activities without consent are not permissible. The Foreign Ministry also lodged a protest with the Chinese government. The survey ship reportedly returned to the Chinese side the following day.

The U.N. Convention on the Law of the Sea states that each coastal state may establish an EEZ within 200 nautical miles from the baseline of its territorial waters in order to protect such rights as developing natural resources. It also stipulates that the consent of the coastal state must be obtained when another nation wants to conduct scientific research in that state’s EEZ.

China’s disregard for international rules is unacceptable.

In July, China installed a buoy in the EEZ off the Senkaku Islands without Japan’s permission. The buoy is said to observe wave heights and currents, with the possibility that it could be used for the operation of China Coast Guard vessels navigating in the area.

The Foreign Ministry has protested to the Chinese government and has repeatedly demanded its immediate removal of the buoy, but Beijing has not complied.

Tokyo is cautious about removing the buoy itself, saying there is no provision in the U.N. Convention on the Law of the Sea regarding such an action.

If all Japan does is protest while leaving the buoy as is, however, China might further expand similar types of activities.

Japan’s diplomatic authorities must change their attitude of not wanting to cause any trouble. It would be an option for Japan to go through certain procedures, such as giving China prior notice, and if Beijing does not do anything, Tokyo should remove the buoy.

China Coast Guard vessels intruding into Japan’s territorial waters around the Senkaku Islands have become a regular occurrence.

Since the beginning of this year, the China Coast Guard has issued announcements that it had driven away Japanese fishing boats, alleging that they illegally entered China’s territorial waters. Around the Senkaku Islands, China Coast Guard vessels use automatic identification system equipment, boldly letting others know the location of the ships.

These acts can only be interpreted as China demonstrating that it has the right to enforce the law in these waters, laying the groundwork to gain effective control of the islands.

Historically and under international law, it is clear that the Senkaku Islands are Japan’s territory. The Japanese government needs to use multilateral frameworks to persistently urge Beijing to exercise restraint and focus efforts on communicating to the outside world about the Senkaku Islands.

Prime Minister Fumio Kishida is scheduled to have a meeting with Chinese President Xi Jinping this week on the sidelines of an international conference to be held in the United States. He should convey Japan’s firm stance on protecting Japan’s sovereignty and national interests.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, Nov. 12, 2023)