China’s challenge to change the effective control over the Senkaku Islands

While the whole world is busy dealing with the spread of the corona virus from China, Chinese coastguard ships enter Japan’s EEZ and Japanese territorial waters around the Senkaku Islands almost daily. Unless vessels violate an innocent passage in the law of the sea, they are permitted to enter territorial waters. However, will the action of China’s coastguard entering Japan’s EEZ and Japanese territorial waters be a harmless passage?

Two Chinese patrol vessels entered Japanese waters on 8 May to track a Japanese fishing boat around 12km off the Senkaku Islands. There were four Chinese coastguard ships there. Two of them, a 5,000 ton and a 1,000 ton patrol ship reportedly chased a Japanese fishing boat.  This is clearly a violation of Japan’s territorial waters.  On 9 May, Chinese patrol vessels entered Japanese waters again and ignored the warning by the Japanese coastguard and stayed until the next day. Can this be called a harmless passage?

This event was not initially reported in detail in Japan, but Japan’s minister of State for Okinawa and Northern Territories Affairs said on Thursday, 11 June 2020 that Japanese security patrol vessels had failed to protect Japanese fishing boats. The Japanese coastguard patrol vessel is 1,000 ton lightly made ship to achieve higher speeds. On the other hand, the Chinese 5,000 ton coastguard ship is made of iron. Thus, the Japanese patrol ship will sink in case of collision; as a result, it was unable to go between the Japanese fishing boat and the Chinese coastguard patrol vessels.

The popular way of Chinese patrol ships and fishing boats against foreign vessels in the South China Sea is to ram them. There is also a high possibility that they would use this method against Japanese vessels: first track and then escalate to either seize or hit Japanese ships and finally sink them.

Despite such serious incidents, there is much talk among the Japanese government and politicians of inviting President Xi Jinping as a state guest. What is the intention of Japanese politicians to turn their eyes away, firstly, from the fact that the coronavirus has been spreading from China inflicting serious damage around the world due to the Chinese government’s concealment of information and, secondly, from the fact that the Chinese perpetrate aggressive acts in the area of the Senkaku Islands, and still invite Xi Jinping as a state guest?

China is obviously trying to control the Senkaku Islands. Although Japan insists on its territorial integrity and authority, the Japanese government forbids Japanese to approach the islands. Therefore, one is hard pressed to judge whether Japan wants to defend its territory. This very disturbing lack of a Japanese  defense strategy simply encourages China even more to achieve its daring expansion politics.

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