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Yoshihiko Yamada

【#1143】Senkakus Cannot Be Protected by Relying Solely on Coast Guard

Yoshihiko Yamada / 2024.05.08 (Wed)

May 7, 2024

Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida and U.S. President Joe Biden at their talks in Washington in April reaffirmed that Article 5 of the Japan-U.S. Security Treaty applies to the Senkaku Islands. In order for the Senkakus to be protected under the treaty, however, they must be under Japan’s administration. China Coast Guard (CCG) patrol ships appear every day in the contiguous waters around the Senkaku Islands to claim that the islands are Chinese territory, threatening Japan’s territorial sovereignty. More efforts are needed to demonstrate that the Senkaku Islands are under Japan’s administration.

Chinese ship approaching 1 nautical mile from main Island

The Senkaku Islands are currently uninhabited, on which the Japanese government does not allow anyone other than a limited scope of national government employees to land. The city of Ishigaki in Okinawa Prefecture, which has the Senkaku Islands within its administrative boundary, has been denied any on-the-spot survey on the islands where rare ecosystems have been reported. Therefore, the city has been conducting a marine environment survey in the waters surrounding the islands. Through the third survey in late April, a large amount of garbage washed ashore and goat eating damage were observed, causing concerns about the collapse of the ecosystems.

At 3 a.m. on April 27, the survey ship’s radar screen showed the presence of 11 vessels surrounding it. It was five hours after the ship left Ishigaki Port for Uotsuri Island, that is the largest of the Senkakus, and the distance between the ship and the island was about 70 kilometers. Information obtained through the automatic identification system (AIS) revealed that four of the surrounding ships were CCG vessels. The others were Japan Coast Guard (JCG) patrol vessels. A total of seven JCG patrol vessels were guarding the survey ship: one on each side of the survey ship, one on the rear, and one for each of the four CCG vessels. The distance between the survey ship and the CCG vessels was about 4 kilometers. This situation continued until the survey ship arrived at the territorial waters around Uotsuri Island.

As soon as the survey ship entered the territorial waters, two CCG vessels were pushed out of the territorial waters by JCG vessels. The remaining CCG vessels entered the territorial waters to follow the survey ship. One of them, the CCG 2502, approached Uotsuri Island as close as 1 nautical mile (about 1.8 kilometers). Claiming over the radio that the Senkaku Islands were Chinese territory, the CCG vessel demanded the survey ship to leave the waters. Then, five JCG vessels surrounded the CCG 2502 to restrict its actions and pull it away from the island.

Take measures to prevent CCG from intruding into Japan’s waters

The JCG demonstrated its skilled and impeccable security operations. When CCG vessels frequently intrude into the Japanese territorial waters, however, it may be questionable whether we can claim that the Senkakus are under Japan’s administration. It is difficult for the JCG alone to prevent CCG vessels from invading the territorial waters. Japan must strengthen its diplomatic and defense capabilities to forestall China’s violation of the territorial waters. If the current situation continues, the JCG will have to devote its energies to guarding the Senkaku Islands forever without paying full attention to protecting the whole of Japan’s territorial waters.

Accompanying Ishigaki Mayor Yoshitaka Nakayama for the latest survey were four members of the National Diet from the ruling Liberal Democratic Party including former Defense Minister Tomomi Inada, and one member from the Japan Innovation Party. All the lawmakers voiced their concerns that Japan’s sovereignty is being threatened. I hope that the government agencies would work as one to embark on measures to protect the Senkaku islands with the help of the lawmakers who joined the survey.

Yoshihiko Yamada is a director of the Japan Institute for National Fundamentals and a professor at Tokai University. He is specialized in maritime issues.