China Coast Guard Navigate near Senkaku Islands for Record 337 Days This Year

Yomiuri Shimbun file photo
An aerial photo of the Senkaku Islands.

The Japan Coast Guard (JCG) spotted three China Coast Guard (CCG) vessels sailing in contiguous zone off the Senkaku Islands in Okinawa Prefecture in the early hours on Thursday.

The sighting makes a record 337 days, surpassing the previous of most sightings of Chinese vessels in the area last year. The JCG continues to be on alert around the clock.

The contiguous zone covers about 22 kilometers outside of territorial waters. While foreign vessels can freely navigate the zone, coastal countries are allowed to exercise a certain degree of authority, such as cracking down on smuggling and trespassing into territorial waters.

The contiguous zone and the territorial waters around Senkaku Islands extend 200 kilometers east to west and 110 kilometers from south to north.

According to the JCG, China increased navigations ever since the Senkaku Islands were nationalized by Japan in 2012. Such navigations have occurred for more than 330 days every year since 2020. Two to four CCG ships are routinely present, excluding days with bad weather. It is suspected that they may remain there for more than 350 days in one year by the end of 2023.

There have been many cases of Chinese vessels approaching or pursing Japanese fishing boats operating near the islands. There were as many as 17 such cases this year alone so far, and all involved intrusions into Japan’s territorial waters. From March 20 through April 2, CCG ships tracking Japanese fishing vessels stayed in the area for a record 80 hours and 36 minutes uninterrupted.

Since March, the CCG ships have also been operating an automatic identification system to notify others nearby of their positions and speeds in and around the area. It is suspected they are trying to provoke Japan by claiming that they are implementing law enforcement around the Senkaku Islands.

“China has increased their activities since they acquired the ability to regularly stay around Senkaku Islands through improved watermanship, in addition to reinforcement and larger sizes of CCG vessels,” said Takahiro Okushima, the board chairperson of the Japan Coast Guard Foundation who served as head of the JCG until June last year. “The JCG in charge of the area should be better prepared as required and continue acting resolutely without responding to provocations by China. That is the most important.”