Two Chinese government vessels stayed in Japan’s territorial waters around the Senkaku Islands, Okinawa Prefecture, for an uninterrupted 57 hours and 39 minutes, from the morning of October 11 to the evening of October 13. Their invasion marks the longest single intrusion since the Japanese government took over the Senkaku chain of islands from a private Japanese owner in September 2012.
During that time, the pair of Chinese Coast Guard ships repeatedly attempted to intimidate a Japanese fishing boat operating about 22 kilometers (13.67 miles) off Taisho Island, one of the Senkakus. A Japan Coast Guard patrol craft protected the fishing boat while demanding, by radio, that the Chinese ships leave Japan’s territorial waters immediately.
The Senkaku Islands are an inherent part of Japan’s territory and the waters and airspace of the islands are indisputably Japan’s. The wandering of Chinese government vessels operating near the Senkakus cannot be forgiven. Their behavior is an act of aggression without using military force, which China must never be allowed to repeat.
It seems the intrusion this time had several aims.
First, it seems that Beijing intended to test the resolve of the newly inaugurated Yoshihide Suga administration. His predecessor, former Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, had repeatedly affirmed in the National Diet and elsewhere his determination to defend the Senkaku Islands.
This Chinese incursion into Japan’s territorial waters was the longest on record, and it has worsened the security situation around the islands from the time of the Abe administration. Prime Minister Suga must therefore show that his resolve is even stronger than the former prime minister’s.
Additionally, the incursion may have been designed to hold Japan in check after Tokyo hosted on October 6 the “Quad” meeting between the foreign ministers of Japan, the United States, Australia, and India.
The Quad meeting confirmed the four nations’ cooperation towards the realization of the vision of a “free and open Indo-Pacific,” with China’s hegemonistic behavior in mind.
In reaction, China’s State Councilor and concurrently Foreign Minister Wang Yi, on his trip to Malaysia on October 13, blasted the Quad’s initiative as “undermining the prospects for peace and development of East Asia.”
However it is China, by its very act of attempting to usurp the Japanese sovereign territory of the Senkaku Islands, which has been undermining peace in the region.
Chief Cabinet Secretary Katsunobu Kato rebutted the Chinese foreign minister’s remark in a press briefing on October 14, saying the free and open Indo-Pacific vision “is not directed towards any specific country.” However, he should have stated instead that the envisioned Indo-Pacific strategy is all the more essential in order to rein in China’s problematic behavior concerning the Senkaku Islands.
The Japanese government said it had filed “firm and rigorous protests” with China over the intrusion into Japan’s territorial waters, with only futile results this time, too. The Chinese foreign ministry spokesman called the Senkaku Islands China’s “inherent territory” on October 12. Using the Chinese name for the Islands, he added: “Patrolling and carrying out law enforcement activities in the waters of the Diaoyu Islands are also China’s inherent right, and Japan should respect this.”
To deal with a lawless country like China, rhetoric not buttressed by might will always end up being fruitless. To defend the Senkaku Islands thoroughly, it is of vital importance that Japan beef up the Self-Defense Forces and the Japan Coast Guard.
(Read the editorial in its original Japanese here.)
Author: Editorial Board, The Sankei Shimbun