Senkaku Islands Situation: Govt Must Show Its Will to Defend Japan’s Sovereignty

It is important for Japan to send a clear message to China, of course, but also to the international community of its intention to resolutely defend the Senkaku Islands.

Late last month, a Japan Coast Guard patrol boat found a Chinese buoy drifting in Japan’s exclusive economic zone (EEZ) off the Senkakus in Okinawa Prefecture.

The buoy was gone a few days later, and the government believes that it sank. The Chinese Foreign Ministry said, “The buoy was originally placed in the waters near the Yangtze River estuary and drifted away owing to technical failure.”

Another buoy believed to have been used for oceanographic surveys by China was found in Japan’s EEZ off the Senkakus last year as well. The U.N. Convention on the Law of the Sea stipulates that the consent of the coastal state must be obtained when conducting scientific research in the EEZ of another country, but China installed the buoy without Japan’s permission.

The fact that China is acting as if the waters in this area are under its control can only be seen as an attempt to make the idea that it has territorial sovereignty over the Senkakus an established fact. The Senkakus are clearly Japan’s territory, both historically and under international law.

In his meeting with Chinese President Xi Jinping last autumn, Prime Minister Fumio Kishida demanded the immediate removal of the buoy, but China has yet to comply.

If China continues to ignore Japan’s demands, shouldn’t the Japanese government remove the buoy by itself? This needs to be done after carefully following procedures, such as giving prior notice to the Chinese side.

The behavior of China Coast Guard vessels in the waters off the Senkakus is also intolerable. Last year, CCG vessels were spotted in the contiguous zones on 352 days, the highest number ever.

Recently, the activities of Chinese military vessels have also become more conspicuous. China has unilaterally established an “air defense identification zone” over the East China Sea, including the Senkakus, and has deployed vessels near the boundary to monitor Self-Defense Forces aircraft and others.

To counter China’s military pressure, the JCG and the SDF must cooperate with each other in vigilant surveillance.

To prevent the situation from worsening, it is also important to utilize hotlines between the defense authorities of both countries to facilitate communication with each other.

The government’s position on the Senkakus is that there is no territorial dispute, but Japan and China exchanged a document in 2014 stating that both sides “have different views” on the situation regarding the East China Sea, including the Senkakus.

At that time, Japan was aiming to break a deadlock in Japan-China relations, which deteriorated after the Senkakus were nationalized in 2012. However, it would be a mistake for China to use the document as grounds to claim that Japan has accepted China’s position.

The fact that China holds a different view from that of Japan, and that it uses that view as the basis for taking actions that violate Japan’s sovereignty, are two completely different issues and China’s actions cannot be accepted.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, Feb. 18, 2024)