Japan's defence paper says China actions in disputed waters amount to 'fait accompli'

A group of disputed islands, Uotsuri island (top), Minamikojima (bottom) and Kitakojima, known as Senkaku in Japan and Diaoyu in China is seen in the East China Sea.
A group of disputed islands, Uotsuri island (top), Minamikojima (bottom) and Kitakojima, known as Senkaku in Japan and Diaoyu in China is seen in the East China Sea.PHOTO: REUTERS

TOKYO - Japan, in its annual defence white paper on Tuesday (Aug 2), has accused China of being assertive over maritime issues, taking actions that effectively amount to a "fait accompli".

In the 484-page tome, the defence ministry said the aggressive actions by China could "cause unintended consequences", referring to past incidents including one where a China naval frigate entered Japan's contiguous zone this year, near a crop of islets in the East China Sea that has been claimed by both countries.

The islets, known as Senkaku in Japan and Diaoyu in China, have been a constant flashpoint between both countries in recent years.

"Recently, China has been intensifying activities near the Senkaku islands such as its military aircraft flying southward closer to the islands," said the defence paper.

In all, the number of scrambles by Japan's Air Self-Defence Forces to counter Chinese aircraft increased "dramatically" - by 23 per cent to 571 in fiscal year 2015.

In the three-month period between April and June this year, such fighter jet scrambles have occurred a record 199 times, the paper noted.

 

"China is poised to fulfil its unilateral demands without compromise, which has included making steady efforts to turn these coercive changes to the status quo into a fait accompli."

 

The defence white paper is published every summer to promote understanding of Japan's defence policy. This year's document had devoted considerable attention to flashpoints in North-east Asia, with the nuclear threat of North Korea presented before China in the paper.

It accuses China of "singing the tune of peaceful development on the one hand, but disregarding international laws and norms on the other".

To prove its point, it printed satellite images of islands within the disputed waters of the South China Sea. China has claimed huge swathes of the waterway, overlapping with Taiwan and four Asean states - the Philippines, Vietnam, Malaysia and Brunei.

It said that China has "pressed ahead" with rapid and large-scale land reclamation works on seven features on the Spratly Islands, developing infrastructure such as runways and harbours. Land reclamation has similarly been conducted on the Paracel Islands.

Japan, in its defence paper, called for all countries to act in accordance to the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (Unclos), and for Asean and China to work towards a Declaration on the Code of Conduct in the waterway.

But what is not directly addressed in this year's report is the July 12 decision by an arbitration tribunal on a case brought by the Philippines against China, nor China's actions after the ruling which was largely in favour of the Philippines.

This was because the paper takes in events only until June 30, the Ministry of Defence said.

The paper was released a day after the Chinese navy held live-fire drills in the East China Sea, which involved the firing of dozens of missiles and torpedoes.

The Chinese Defence Ministry said in a statement on Monday: "An information technology-based war at sea is sudden, cruel and short, which requires fast transition to combat status, quick preparation and high assault efficiency."

The drill involved naval aviation forces, including submarines, ships and coast guard servicemen.

And in the South China Sea, China announced last week that it would hold "routine" joint naval drills with Russia in September. On this, Japan's Defence Ministry told a media briefing: "It is an annual maritime cooperation between China and Russia and it is the first time it will be taking place in the South China Sea.

"It has been our traditional position that we do not comment on joint exercises by other countries."

Meanwhile, the defence paper also identified North Korea and terrorism as key threats.

It said it "could be possible" that North Korea has developed nuclear warheads, given the technological maturity through the country's four nuclear tests.

The paper criticised North Korea for "continued provocative military actions" - like its fourth nuclear test in January 2016 and repeated launches of ballistic missiles starting from a month later.

It said: "North Korea seems to have been further advancing its overall development of ballistic missiles."

Terrorism meanwhile is an increasing key threat, Japan said, noting that international terror organisations are capable of attacks in locations far from their bases.

Seven Japanese aid workers were slain in a cafe siege in the Bangladesh capital of Dhaka on July 1 that also killed nine Italians.

"Japan is in a situation where it needs to squarely address the threat of international terrorism as its own challenge," the paper said.

This is stronger language than the tone that had been taken in previous defence papers, when it said Japan "should not be indifferent" to the terror threat.

The Defence Ministry noted that counter-terrorism measures in Japan are primarily led by police authorities, with the support of the Ministry of Defence and the Self-Defence Forces.