Japan Institute for National Fundamentals

Speaking out

Fumio Ota

【#491】Be Alert to Chinese Active Military Operations

Fumio Ota / 2018.01.18 (Thu)

January 15, 2018

     On January 11, a submarine of China’s People’s Liberation Army (PLA) Navy submerged in a contiguous zone near Taisho Island of the Senkaku Islands in the East China Sea, accompanied by a frigate. China has been conducting a series of smiling diplomacies in an apparent bid to attract Japan to its “One Belt, One Road” initiative for a wide economic zone. But we should not overlook Chinese increasing military activities aiming to snatch the Senkakus from Japan.
     One of the purposes of the latest submarine passage may have been to test Japan’s submarine detection capabilities. Had the submarine not been detected, China could have planned to intrude Japan’s territorial waters around the Senkakus next time. China may also have had a political intention to emphasize its territorial claim to the Senkakus toward the international community even if the submarine passage is detected by Japan. In fact, the Chinese Foreign Ministry struck a defiant attitude on the incident and claimed the PLA Navy tracked and monitored two destroyers of Japan’s Maritime Self-Defense Force because the Senkakus are Chinese territory.

Taisho Island used as U.S. firing range
     The United States used Taisho Island, approached by the PLA submarine last week, and Kuba Island as firing ranges even after China began to make territorial claims to the Senkakus in 1971. Given that the United States cannot possibly use any island under China’s sovereignty as a firing range, Washington undoubtedly recognized the Senkakus as under Japan’s sovereignty then.
     Since 1978, however, U.S. forces have never notified the Japanese government of the use of the two islands as firing ranges, meaning U.S. forces suspended the use. It is natural for us to suspect that the Chinese may have made some request regarding the Senkakus before China and the United States agreed in December 1978 to establish their diplomatic relations.
     As a matter of fact, Japan’s Takeshima Islands controlled illegally by South Korea in the Sea of Japan had also been designated as a U.S. firing range. In January 1952, then South Korean President Rhee Syngman unilaterally drew the so-called Rhee Syngman line in defiance of international law to monopolize fishing to include the Takeshima Islands over which Seoul claims sovereignty. In July 1952, however, the U.S. filed an application with the Japanese government for using the Takeshima Islands as a firing range, indicating Washington’s recognition of the islands as Japanese territory.
     In April 1960, then U.S. Ambassador to Japan Douglas MacArthur II, a nephew of Gen. Douglas MacArthur who had been supreme commander of Allied forces in Japan, sent a telegram to Washington saying, “Rhee regime seized by force and is holding illegally Takeshima Island which has always been considered as Japanese territory. … We should press new ROK regime to return Takeshima to Japan. … We should, as very minimum, insist that they agree to submit matter to International Court of Justice for arbitration. ”

Loss of Senkakus leading to Loss of Okinawa
     What would happen if Japan asks the United States to use Taisho Island as a firing range again? If the United States resumes the use, it will virtually mean Washington’s recognition of the Senkakus as Japanese territory.
     Given Washington’s neutral position regarding the Senkakus’ sovereignty, however, the United Sates is unlikely to resume the use as a firing range. Above all, it is shameful for Japan as an independent state to depend on the United State for preserving Japanese territory. Japan itself is responsible for defending its own territory.
     The problem is that some leftist intellectuals in Japan call for ceding the Senkakus to China. We must remember German scholar of legal philosophy Rudolf von Jhering who said, “From the nation which allowed itself to be deprived of one square mile of territory by its neighbor, unpunished, the rest also would be taken.” If China seizes the Senkakus, it will be obvious for China to try seizing the main island of Okinawa.

Fumio Ota is a JINF Planning Committee Member and retired Vice Admiral of Japan’s Maritime Self-Defense Force.