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EDITORIAL | Will the Japanese Gov’t Just Watch Senkaku Islands Deteriorate? 

For fear of provoking China, the national government in Tokyo wouldn’t allow onshore surveys despite environmental degredation of the Senkaku Islands.



Senkaku Islands
Uotsuri Island was photographed by a drone on January 30. It was part of an environmental survey of the Senkaku Islands and Uotsuri Island in Ishigaki City, Okinawa Prefecture. (Provided by Ishigaki City)

A survey team from Ishigaki City and Tokai University recently conducted the first aerial drone survey of Uotsurishima (Uotsuri Island). The island is one of the Senkaku Islands in Ishigaki City, Okinawa Prefecture. Their research confirmed that the natural environment is rapidly deteriorating.

We must not allow the precious ecosystem of the Senkakus to collapse. Experts need to go ashore to determine the causes of environmental degradation so we can quickly implement countermeasures.

The goats introduced onto the island by a political group in 1978 have been breeding. Now there is concern about the damage they have caused, such as eating up the island's vegetation. Video footage taken from the air by the survey drone confirms the severity of the damage. The eastern mountain slopes, in particular, are now lacking vegetation. In addition, slope slippage is evident in many places. 

Moreover, a large amount of seaborne debris has also washed up on the island's shores. 

The Senkaku Islands are home to unique species of flora and fauna. Among them are the Senkaku mole (Mogera uchidai) and Senkaku azalea (Senkaku tsutsuji). However, according to Professor Yoshihiko Yamada of Tokai University, a survey team member, the island's ecosystem is unsustainable now. He concludes, "The island is dying."

Senkaku Islands
This photo shows garbage and debris is drifting ashore on the Senkaku Islands in Ishigaki City, Okinawa Prefecture. (Provided by Ishigaki City)

Protecting the Environment on the Senkaku Islands

Despite the fact that the situation is already critical, the national government has not allowed onshore surveys. This has been the case ever since the Senkakus were nationalized in 2012. 

In 2020, Ishigaki City sought to change the official addresses for each of the Senkaku Islands, which it administers, and replace the old name markers on each island. However, the government refused to grant it permission to land on the islands.

Meanwhile, China has only escalated its baseless territorial claims to the Senkakus. The number of days in which Chinese government vessels were sighted in the adjacent waters surrounding the islands reached a record high of 336 in 2022.

If the Japanese government will not grant permission for researchers to go onto Uotsurishima to conduct a survey because they are afraid of provoking China, that would be an extreme expression of a "don't rock the boat" mindset. It even casts doubt on whether Japan's leaders are serious about defending the nation's territory. In fact, it is the direct opposite of what our message should be.

Senkaku Islands
Japan Coast Guard patrol vessels navigates alongside a Chinese Coast Guard ship to prevent it from approaching a research vessel. January 30, off the Senkaku Islands in Ishigaki City, Okinawa Prefecture. (© Sankei by Hiroshi Kawase)

Standing Up to China

Four Chinese Coast Guard vessels entered Japan's territorial waters while the aerial survey was underway. However, 10 Japan Coast Guard vessels efficiently blocked them so that they could not approach the research vessel. The Coast Guard deserves commendation for a job well done. Of course, it was just doing what was to be expected in terms of security. 

During the 2013 election for the Upper House, the Liberal Democratic Party's comprehensive policy platform explicitly called for officials to be permanently present in the Senkaku Islands. Where did its commitment to that policy go? Why bother making such promises if researchers are not even allowed ashore to survey the natural environment?

The Senkaku Islands are such rich fishing grounds that, during the Meiji period (1868-1912), around 200 people lived on them. These were bonito fishermen and their families, including their children. 


The government should station public servants on the islands to conduct a thorough assessment of what living conditions were at that time as well as the current conditions on all the islands.


(Read the editorial in Japanese at this link.)

Author: Editorial Board, The Sankei Shimbun

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