China Coast Guard’s Intrusions Around Japan’s Senkakus Show Patterns

Yomiuri Shimbun file photo
Japan Coast Guard patrol vessels flank a China Coast Guard vessel off Uotsuri Island of the Senkaku Islands on Jan. 30.

China Coast Guard vessels sailing off the Senkaku Islands having been showing some patterns. The ships were entering Japan’s territorial waters off the Senkakus as if carrying out “regular patrol” at specific times of the day and chase after Japanese fishing boats if there are such vessels in the area, a data analysis by The Yomiuri Shimbun and others has revealed.

About three years ago, the length of stay per CCG fleet extended from half a month to one month. The data showed China’s intention to gain effective control of the Senkakus of Ishigaki, Okinawa Prefecture.

The 11th Regional Coast Guard Headquarters in Naha has made public the movements of CCG vessels navigating Japan’s territorial waters and contiguous zones, which are a 22-kilometer-wide band of sea beyond the territorial waters.

With the cooperation of National Defense Academy Associate Prof. Shinichi Nakazawa, The Yomiuri Shimbun examined the data in the period from July 2018, when China reorganized the CCG, through the end of March this year.

The CCG vessels usually sail in a fleet of four vessels. The analysis shows that there were 154 days during the period when the vessels intruded into territorial waters, and on 79 of these days, they entered territorial waters even though there were no Japanese vessels around.

The time of the intrusions was concentrated between 10 a.m. and noon and between 4 p.m. and 6 p.m. This accounted for 88% of the time the CCG vessels sailed in Japan’s territorial waters.

On the other 75 days, at least one of the CCG vessels followed a Japanese fishing boat or other ships into the territorial waters.

“The CCG vessels enter at certain times of the day because they were apparently assigned a quota regarding the intrusion into Japan’s territorial waters,” said Nakazawa, who served as captain of a large vessel in the Maritime Self-Defense Force. “Combined with their behavior of chasing after Japanese fishing boats, their aim appears to be to a display of effective control of the Senkakus.”

He speculates that the specific time of day is chosen because it is the time when the crew members can concentrate on their duties after a shift change.

The analysis also found that the number of days that the CCG vessels remain offshore the Senkakus has been increasing. Through mid-January 2000, each fleet usually rotated every 15 days, but since then they have been rotating about every month, doubling the number of days per dispatch. Behind this change is believed to be the increased size of CCG vessels.

Sailing within the contiguous zones have also become a regular occurrence, with last year’s total reaching a record 336 days.

In July 2018, China reorganized the CCG and expanded its equipment. As of fiscal 2021, it possesses 132 large vessels, surpassing the Japan Coast Guard’s 70 vessels.

“The reason why the China Coast Guard vessels are operating in a certain pattern is to show that they are engaging in what they claim to be law enforcement activities around the Senkaku Islands and to demonstrate China’s presence there,” said Bonji Ohara, a senior fellow at the Sasakawa Peace Foundation who is an expert on China’s security policy. “Japan must remain vigilant and continue to create a situation in which it can push these vessels away from the territorial waters.”