Japan's new sea policy to include issues of North Korean missiles, Arctic shipping lanes

Crew members of the Japan Maritime Self-Defence Force's helicopter carrier Izumo parading during a handover ceremony in Yokohama on March 22, 2017.
Crew members of the Japan Maritime Self-Defence Force's helicopter carrier Izumo parading during a handover ceremony in Yokohama on March 22, 2017.PHOTO: REUTERS

TOKYO (THE JAPAN NEWS/ASIA NEWS NETWORK) - In its next five-year ocean policy plan, the Japanese government is expected to emphasise national security by explicitly addressing a number of related issues, The Yomiuri Shimbun has learnt.

Measures against North Korean ballistic missile launches, improved countermeasures against illegal fishing boats and other issues will be addressed in the plan for the first time, as the government seeks to unite agencies in tackling such challenges as China's maritime advances and a possible deterioration in the situation on the Korean Peninsula.

The third iteration of the Basic Plan on Ocean Policy is due to be approved by the Cabinet as early as late April.

First adopted in 2008, the plan is revised roughly every five years. The next plan will set government guidelines on maritime policy for the fiscal years 2018-22.

A draft plan, seen by The Yomiuri Shimbun, overviews the situation in waters surrounding Japan, noting that the nation's "maritime interests are facing unprecedented threats".

Among the risk factors cited in the draft are foreign government vessels entering Japan's territorial waters; foreign fishing boats operating illegally, washing ashore or drifting off the coast; provocative acts by North Korea; and the transportation of materials for missiles and weapons of mass destruction.

Specifically, the draft includes a section on ballistic missiles for the first time, stressing the government will "establish communication methods to swiftly convey information to ships navigating or engaging in activities in waters off Japan". As part of such efforts, the government plans to introduce a new wireless system that automatically sends information on missile launches to fishing vessels in operation.

Regarding waters surrounding the Senkaku/Diaoyu islands, including territorial seas that Chinese government vessels have repeatedly entered, the draft says the Japan Coast Guard will lead efforts to "urgently prepare a system to guard territorial waters".

The draft plan says that Japan "intends to improve its defence posture" by introducing such measures as deploying units to the Nansei Islands - a chain of Japanese islands stretching southwest from Kyushu to Taiwan - through the National Defence Programme Guidelines that will be revised by the end of this year.

The draft also addresses illegal fishing vessels from China, North Korea and other countries that have repeatedly conducted illicit operations inside Japan's exclusive economic zone. It specifies the government's plan to improve its ability to deal with such vessels by increasing the number of patrol vessels under the Fisheries Agency patrol headquarters established in January.

The draft plan also outlines the government's stance of strengthening its policies on maritime surveys, research and development, protection of remote islands and other initiatives, by defining these policies as "measures that include aspects expected to serve the security" of the nation.

The draft urges closer coordination among relevant government ministries and agencies by specifying improvements in "Maritime Domain Awareness" (MDA) - the capacity to integrate all relevant maritime data - as a key measure.

MDA is a conceptual framework that contributes to such goals as detecting suspicious ships, preventing disasters and developing resources by aggregating information on surveillance vessels, survey vessels, aircraft, artificial satellites, allied countries and other matters.

In addition, the draft plan identifies the utilisation of Arctic shipping lanes as a primary government policy for the first time, calling on Japan to participate in the creation of international regulations on the Arctic Ocean.