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Publication Date : 12-09-2013
Japanese and Chinese ships continue to square off against each other almost daily in waters around the islands
At about 10:27am Tuesday, members of the Japan Coast Guard responded to a report that a China Coast Guard ship had intruded into Japanese waters off Kubashima island of the Senkaku Islands, about 410 kilometres west of Okinawa Island.
As Chinese ships entered the Japanese waters one after another in a convoy, JCG patrol ships began sailing alongside each of them, which is a standard procedure for this type of situation, called a “one-on-one defence”.
A similarly tense situation was observed from a Yomiuri Shimbun jet plane Friday morning over the islands. Four JCG patrol ships were tagging alongside four China Coast Guard ships that were sailing in the contiguous zone around Kubashima.
The contiguous zone near Kubashima extends about 22 kilometres beyond Japanese territorial waters.
One year after Japan’s nationalisation of three of the Senkaku Islands in Okinawa Prefecture, JCG ships and Chinese ships continue to square off against each other almost daily in waters around the islands.
With the Chinese military increasingly asserting its presence in the region, and as China ramps up its provocative actions, Japan is trying to maintain a defensive posture.
On Friday, the JCG ships sailed inside the path taken by the Chinese ships circling around Kubashima to discourage Chinese vessels from entering the waters.
The Chinese ships posted the message “cruising Chinese territorial waters” in Chinese on digital displays.
Two people believed to be crew members of one of the ships pointed a camera and a video recorder at the Yomiuri jet plane. Four Chinese ships entered Japanese territorial waters on Friday night, ignoring a warning issued by the JCG.
According to the JCG, Chinese ships had entered Japanese waters on 63 days in the past year as of Tuesday, a startling increase from three during the year before Japan nationalised three of the islands.
The number of days they entered the contiguous zone also sharply increased to 259 from 14 during the same period. More than 1,000 Chinese ships of about 50 types, including former Chinese Navy vessels, were used in such activities.
On August 7 and 8, several China Coast Guard ships stayed in Japanese territorial waters for a total of about 28 hours, the longest so far.
An Ishigaki City Assembly member travelling the waters aboard a private ship at that time said one of the Chinese ships approached the Japanese ship and issued a warning in Japanese that the latter could be seized unless it left the area immediately, as the ship was in “Chinese waters”.
After a JCG patrol ship placed itself between the two, the Chinese ship left the scene.
However, the Chinese ship tailed the private ship until it left the area, while making provocative moves, including trying to remove a small boat from the vessel.
“Chinese ships have started behaving as if the country has jurisdiction over the area,” a source close to the JCG said.
The UN Convention on the Law of the Sea stipulates that a nation can demand other nations’ military vessels to leave its territorial waters when they enter without permission.
However, the convention does not clarify what a nation can do against foreign nonmilitary government vessels.
Based on the convention’s rules on military ships, Japan believes it can demand foreign official vessels to leave its territorial waters, but is unable to resort to force in principle, such as seizing them.
The JCG’s strategy has been to mobilise at least the same number of patrol ships as that of the Chinese side and sail alongside them, telling them to leave Japanese territorial waters.
It also aims to continue preventing accidental clashes between Chinese ships and Japanese fishing boats or a seizure of Japanese boats by Chinese ships, by cutting them off whenever the latter approach the former.
Although it is difficult to predict what actions the Chinese side will take from now, the JCG will do its best to address the situation, a senior JCG official said, as Chinese ships are expected to come near or intrude into Japanese territorial waters repeatedly.
Provocation from air
The Chinese military has also been making its presence known around the Senkaku Islands from the air.
China flew two bombers over the Pacific from a location between Okinawa Island and Miyakojima island, as well as a drone north of the Senkaku Islands between Sunday and Monday, likely to coincide with the first anniversary of Japan’s nationalisation of some of the islands. This is the first time China has taken such actions.
The flight of the drone is especially disconcerting. There are fears that airspace violation warnings issued by the Air Self-Defence Force by signal flares or radio communications would not be accurately received by the operator of the unmanned aircraft, the Chinese military. As communication between both sides is problematic, a serious incident could occur if something went wrong.
In response to the latest incident, the Defence Ministry started studying countermeasures against such activities Tuesday.
“These are clearly provocative actions related to the first anniversary of the nationalisation of the Senkaku Islands,” Tetsuo Kotani, researcher at the Japan Institute of International Affairs, said. “China unwaveringly insists that the jurisdiction of the seas is integrated with the airspace. China appears to have openly started treating the airspace over the East China Sea as part of its jurisdiction.”