China’s self-serving maritime expansion should not become a fait accompli. It is imperative to strategically reinforce the Japan Coast Guard’s surveillance posture.
Intrusions by China Coast Guard vessels into Japanese territorial waters and the contiguous zone around the Senkaku Islands have continued.
Despite Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s call for self-restraint during a Sep 5 bilateral meeting with Chinese President Xi Jinping, four Chinese government vessels entered Japanese territorial waters on Sep 11.
This is regarded by some people as a spiteful response to Japan’s demand that Beijing abide by international law in resolving territorial disputes in the South China Sea. If this is the case, China’s actions must be regarded as totally misdirected and cannot be ignored.
Navigation by Chinese government vessels through the contiguous zone has become routine since Japan’s nationalisation of the Senkakus in September 2012.
In August this year, up to 15 government vessels and 200 to 300 fishing boats appeared in the zone at one time. Since December last year, the number of vessels equipped with what appeared to be machine guns has increased.
Crew members from Chinese government vessels have repeatedly been confirmed to have boarded Chinese fishing boats in Japan’s exclusive economic zone (EEZ). This indicates that on-the-spot inspections of the fishing boats, among other activities, were carried out by the Chinese authorities based on Chinese law.
Chinese fishing boats are permitted to operate in Japan’s EEZ under the Japan-China fishery agreement. But the Chinese government is not empowered under international law to exercise its jurisdiction in regard to fishing in this zone.
To prevent such actions from becoming faits accomplis, JCG patrol boats must monitor the moves of Chinese government vessels constantly and issue immediate and adequate warnings.
To prevent accidental clashes and illegal landings by fishermen and other Chinese, it is essential that the JCG ensures numerical superiority in the number of its patrol boats compared to its Chinese counterpart.
As things stand now, the JCG’s capabilities are not necessarily sufficient.
This spring, the JCG established a full-time surveillance system involving 12 patrol boats to safeguard the waters around the Senkakus.
This was based on the assumption that they would only have to keep an eye on about five Chinese government vessels. In the event that there are more Chinese government vessels, the JCG receives help from patrol boats dispatched from around Japan.
The China Coast Guard has tripled the number of its large patrol boats to 120 in the past three years. The number will be reached to 135 in 2019.
The number of large JCG patrol boats totals only 62.
The government appropriated ¥39 billion (S$522 million) in the second supplementary budget for fiscal 2016 to build three new patrol boats. This number needs to be increased systematically.
It is essential to increase JCG personnel. At present it has a workforce of 13,500, an increase of about 800 since the nationalisation of the Senkakus. Reemployment of former JCG personnel has made progress.
It takes several years to train coast guard crew members. Necessary steps must be taken as soon as possible to improve the situation in the future.
To avert an emergency, it is also important to establish a communication channel with the Chinese authorities concerned.
Last year, the JCG and its Chinese counterpart established a contact point in each other’s organisation, but this function is not being used. It is necessary to hold talks between the two organisations tenaciously.
The Yomiuri Shimbun is a member of The Straits Times media partner Asia News Network, an alliance of 21 newspapers.