Chinese Coast Guard enters Japanese waters first time
It was another first for the Chinese, sailing four of its Cost Guard vessels into Japanese territory for the first time, swapping warnings with Japanese Coast Guard patrol ships.
The confrontations between the two countries’ coast guards centers on China’s insistence the Senkakus belong to them under the name Diaoyus, while Japan likewise contends the five uninhabited islands in southwest Okinawa Prefecture are Japanese.
The squaring off between the coast guard vessels came at the same time Japan’s Defense Ministry was recommending amphibious units be established and surveillance drones purchased to protect the nation’s outlying islands. “To deploy units quickly in response to a situation,” says the Defense Ministry, “it is important… to have an amphibious function that is similar to U.S. Marines,” capable of moving about Japan’s islands to conduct remote landing operations.
The Japanese report noted the country “has some 6,800 islands, and Japan stands on the 6th place in the world in terms of interests it holds in the seas.” Minister Itsunori Onodera says “protecting the islands is an enormous task, especially if it only relies on manned aircraft as we do currently.” Japan’s constitution and policies are causing concerns to many in Tokyo because of the Chinese aggressiveness.
“We have this awareness that given changes in the security environment surrounding Japan,” says a defense official, that “we have to discuss whether it is enough for us to depend on U.S. forces in terms of capability to attack enemy territory. Japan and the United States have a security treaty, which calls for America to come to Japan’s aid if attacked.
The disputes over the Senkakus have been going on for decades, but escalated last September when Japan nationalized three of the islands. China’s response has been to play a more aggressive role in the area, but last week’s actions involving Chinese Coast Guard ships, which are believed could be armed, may signal a stronger Japanese response. Chinese government vessels have made a number of forays into the region in recent months, but this latest move was the first time since Beijing consolidated a number of government agencies under the Coast Guard flag this week.
China’s Xinhua news agency confirms the actions, noting the Chinese ships “patrolled the country’s territorial waters.” Chinese media say that fisheries law enforcement and Customs anti-smuggling maritime police and integrated marine surveillance have all been merged into a super Coast Guard. A university researcher watching the disputes says the Chinese changes mean “as it is named the coast guard, its ships are likely to be authorized to carry light weapons so they can enforce the law.”