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Yoshihiko Yamada

【#884】Oceanographic Survey to Demonstrate Japan’s Sovereignty

Yoshihiko Yamada / 2022.02.10 (Thu)

February 7, 2022

On January 31, Okinawa Prefecture’s Ishigaki Municipal Government conducted an oceanographic survey around the Senkaku Islands that belong to the city. This was the first survey there since the one by the Tokyo Metropolitan Government in 2012.

The Tokyo Metropolitan Government under then Governor Shintaro Ishihara planned to purchase the Senkaku Islands, construct telecommunications and lighthouse facilities there for the safety of merchant ships and fishing boats, and establish an international marine environment laboratory on the islands. But the then Democratic Party of Japan administration was reluctant to accept the Tokyo plan and nationalized the islands without any plan. Since then, even Ishigaki Municipal Government officials have been prohibited from landing on the islands or even approaching them.

The current coalition government of the Liberal Democratic Party and Komeito Party has taken over the Democratic Party’s policy on the islands, which has been criticized for giving too much consideration to Japan-China friendship to weaken the position of Japan having sovereignty over the islands and threaten Japan’s national security.

Japan Coast Guard guaranteed safe navigation for surveying

The Japanese and U.S. governments have reaffirmed that the Japan-U.S. Security Treaty is applied to the Senkaku Islands. The reaffirmation is based on the premise that the islands are under Japan’s administration. The islands are uninhabited and the government has no plan to utilize them. Most of foreign diplomats and journalists I interviewed said it would be difficult to see the Senkaku Islands are under Japan’s administration under such circumstances. The government is urgently required to set out a Senkaku management and utilization policy.

At present, marine environment conservation has become a major theme for international ocean management. Seas make a great impact on the global environment and marine ecosystems. Japan can implement a marine environment conservation policy as a pillar to demonstrate that the Senkaku Islands are under the administration of Japan.

The Ishigaki Municipal Government has come up with marine environment conservation as a policy measure to clarify Japan’s territorial sovereignty over the Senkakus and Ishigaki’s administrative authority on the islands. In response to the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goal 14 that is to “conserve and sustainably use the oceans, seas and marine resources for sustainable development," Ishigaki plans to survey precious ecosystems and key fishing grounds for local fishermen. It has awarded a contract for the survey to Tokai University and chartered the university’s oceanographic survey training ship named Boseimaru, which is qualified for international navigation and free from any legal constraints regarding navigation around the Senkaku Islands.

I explained the survey navigation plan to the Japan Coast Guard and the Maritime Self-Defense Force in advance. The agency told me that the agency would have no reason to restrict Ishigaki’s official survey using a ship legally qualified for navigation and would protect its safe navigation.

Two China Coast Guard ships appeared in waters near the Senkakus during the survey, but were blocked by Japan Coast Guard ships from approaching the survey ship.

Japan required to enact legislation to block Chinese fishermen’s landing

Japan has fully established security arrangements against Chinese Coast Guard ships in waters around the Senkakus. If Chinese fishing boats with fishermen (i.e., maritime militias) aboard approach the islands en masse, however, it would be difficult for Japan to block them from landing and occupying the islands. Ground security and defense arrangements for the islands are required. Relevant legislation must be enacted urgently as current domestic law has many defects.

After the survey, Chief Cabinet Secretary Hirokazu Matsuno said he would like to refrain from making a comment on each of actions by local governments or private organizations. I interpret this remark as tolerating Ishigaki’s survey. In the future, I would like to pursue environmental conservation, commemorative and other public activities on the islands and urge the central government to implement policies to demonstrate that the Senkakus are under Japan’s administration.

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