Japan on alert after maritime provocations / Russia, China ramping up activities in nearby seas

The Yomiuri Shimbun

The Japanese government is becoming increasingly vigilant over provocations by Beijing and Moscow, following sightings of Chinese and Russian naval vessels in waters off the Senkaku Islands in Okinawa Prefecture on Monday morning.

Although no coordination between China and Russia has been confirmed, their vessels have been spotted sailing around Japan on similar routes since mid-June. The government is investigating the possibility that Beijing and Moscow are testing Japan’s ability to track vessels.

“It is an act that unilaterally heightens tensions,” a senior Japanese Defense Ministry official said Monday, following the sightings near the Senkakus. “The situation is of serious concern.”

Beijing and Moscow appear to have strengthened their cooperation in areas around Japan since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

On June 15, seven Russian warships sailed in the Pacific Ocean off Hokkaido’s Cape Erimo, according to the Defense Ministry. Five of those vessels were also spotted later in waters off Okinawa Island and Miyako Island, and sailing through the Tsushima Strait toward the Sea of Japan.

The other two Russian vessels were spotted navigating between Yonaguni and Iriomote islands in Okinawa Prefecture on Saturday, having sailed south past the Izu Islands south of Tokyo Bay earlier. One of those two vessels entered Japan’s contiguous zone off the Senkaku Islands on Monday.

Meanwhile, four Chinese Navy ships passed through the Tsushima Strait near Kyushu heading north on June 12 to 13. The vessels split into two groups, with one group passing through the Soya Strait north of Hokkaido and another through the Tsugaru Strait south of Hokkaido, both heading toward the Pacific Ocean.

Three of the four vessels eventually ended up sailing south past the Izu Islands on June 21.

Some observers say that the moves by China and Russia are intended to rattle Japan, which has taken concerted action with other Group of Seven industrialized nations and continues to impose sanctions against Russia over its invasion of Ukraine.

China and Russia conducted a joint drill with bombers in areas including the Sea of Japan when the Quad — a framework among Japan, the United States, Australia and India — held a summit in Tokyo in May.

“It is likely that the Self-Defense Forces’ surveillance capabilities and tracking system are being checked and information is being shared by both [Russia and China],” a senior Japanese Defense Ministry official said.