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July 2021

Feature Article

Activities of Chinese Government Ships around the Senkaku Islands and the Japan Coast Guard's Response

by Yasuhiro Okamoto

1. Senkaku Islands

Japan's territorial integrity after World War II was legally established in the San Francisco Peace Treaty, which came into effect in 1952. Under the treaty, the Senkaku Islands were not included in the territories abandoned by Japan, but were placed under the administration of the United States as part of Japan's Nansei Islands. Later, in 1972, the Okinawa Reversion Agreement between Japan and the United States regarding the Ryukyu Islands and the Daito Islands included the Senkaku Islands in the area returned to Japan. These facts indicate that the Senkaku Islands are Japanese territory. The Senkaku Islands have been consistently treated as Japan's territory in the postwar order and international law system.

2. China's Movements over the Senkaku Islands

On May 7, 2008, during their official visit to Japan, President Hu Jintao and Prime Minister Yasuo Fukuda signed a joint statement between the Government of Japan and the Government of China to comprehensively promote the “Mutually Beneficial Relationship based on Common Strategic Interests,” recognizing that Japan-China relations are one of the most important bilateral relations for both countries and that they have great influence and a solemn responsibility for the peace, stability and development of the Asia-Pacific region and the world.

However, six months later, on December 8th of the same year, two Chinese government ships suddenly intruded Japan’s territorial waters around the Senkaku Islands for the first time, and despite repeated requests from the Japan Coast Guard patrol vessels to leave and protests through diplomatic channels, they wandered and drifted into Japanese territorial waters for about nine hours until the evening of that same day. China's new stance on the Senkaku Islands, in which Chinese government ships navigate with the clear intention of infringing on Japan's sovereignty and attempt to change the status quo by force, has become clear.

After the collision of Chinese fishing vessels in Japanese territorial waters around the Senkaku Islands on September 7, 2010, Chinese government ships began to sail in the waters around the Senkaku Islands with greater frequency than before, and there were incidents of two vessels intruding into Japanese territorial waters around the Senkaku Islands in August 2011, one in March 2012, and four in July of the same year.

In addition, on September 11, 2012, Japan transferred ownership of three of the Senkaku Islands from private citizens to the State under civil law, and on and after September 14, 2012, Chinese government ships began to enter the connected waters almost every day except for days with stormy weather. On December 22, 2015, it was confirmed for the first time that Chinese government ships, which were clearly equipped with a machine gun, entered the EEZ, and since December 26, there have also been incursions into territorial waters. China’s provocation have been escalating, as the chart below shows.

The numbers of Chinese government and other vessels that have entered Japan's contiguous zone or intruded into the territorial sea surrounding the Senkaku Islands

3. Actions and Efforts of the Japan Coast Guard

In 2016, the Japanese government decided on the "Policy on Strengthening the Coast Guard System," and based on this ruling, it has been making steady efforts to enhance and strengthen the ability of the Japan Coast Guard. The commandant of the Japan Coast Guard announced that in the budget for the fiscal year 2021 the government will continue to upgrade large patrol vessels and other equipment for guarding the Senkaku territorial waters. In addition, in order to secure and develop human resources, the Japan Coast Guard will expand their education and training facilities, including the construction of a large training ship for Japan Coast Guard trainees, and promote initiatives to maintain and strengthen maritime order, such as contributing to the capacity building activities in related countries.

Lastly, the situation around the Senkaku Islands continues to be tense, with Chinese government ships attempting to interfere with Japanese fishing boats fishing in the area. Therefore, it will be important for the Japan Coast Guard to continue to respond appropriately and for the US and other like-minded countries to work together to deal with China against their attempts of changing the status quo by force.

Image Sources:

Japan’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs

Jiji Press Ltd.

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