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Editorial: Strengthen Japan Coast Guard to deal with China’s intrusions

Intrusions by Chinese government vessels into Japanese territorial waters and their unilateral oceanographic surveys have become rampant. It is essential to establish a security mechanism that can provide an immediate response at all times.

 

The government has decided for the first time a policy regarding reinforcement of the maritime safety mechanism, and a pillar of the policy is to further strengthen the security mechanism for the territorial waters around the Senkaku Islands. The government plans to accelerate efforts to equip the Japan Coast Guard with more patrol boats and surveillance bases as it claims that China is “arming its government vessels and increasing their size.”

 

China has been escalating the activity of the government vessels in the area near the islands. Over a period from 2012 to 2016, there were a total of 3,437 entries by such vessels into the contiguous zone around the islands for a total of 1,017 days. There were 557 confirmed intrusions into the territorial waters over the same period, totaling 180 days.

 

Those vessels enter the contiguous zone almost every day except in stormy weather. They constantly intrude into the territorial waters multiple times each month. In 2015, an armed Chinese government vessel was detected near the islands.

 

China’s repetition of such self-serving activities trying to establish a fait accompli is similar to its approach of building and militarizing artificial islands in the South China Sea. To prevent this, Japan needs to exercise its sovereignty by ensuring JCG patrol boats continuously monitor Chinese government vessels and issuing warnings.

 

The reinforcement policy was decided in a meeting of relevant ministers including Prime Minister Shinzo Abe; Land, Infrastructure, Transport and Tourism Minister Keiichi Ishii; and Finance Minister Taro Aso. The objective of the policy is for the government as a whole to systematically enhance the capability to secure maritime safety.

 

Do not fall behind China

 

The JCG’s spending and personnel have seen an increase in recent years. The fiscal 2017 budget included a record ¥210.6 billion and a workforce of 13,744. It is worth considering compiling in the future a plan that defines the JCG’s spending and programs to build up its capabilities over a period of five years, which would be similar to the government’s Medium Term Defense Program.

 

The reinforcement policy also includes establishing a posture of responding to other large-scale incidents while maintaining the security of the Senkaku Islands. This move follows an incident in which more than 200 Chinese coral-fishing boats gathered near the Ogasawara Islands in autumn 2014.

 

The government’s objective of preparing for “two-front operations” is understandable. The government plans to procure five more large-scale patrol vessels as an emergency measure in the near future. The JCG has a total of about 370 vessels nationwide and it is important to create a mechanism by which those ships can cover each other more flexibly.

 

It is alarming that China has been sharply increasing its oceanographic research activities in recent years by dispatching a large number of research vessels around the Senkaku Islands and other areas. The number of research activities conducted without the consent of the Japanese government is also rapidly increasing. China is apparently trying to collect information for military purposes and to secure natural resources.

 

In recent years, Beijing has also been stepping up its moves to file applications with an international organization to give Chinese names to undersea features around Japan’s exclusive economic zone.

 

In an effort to protect Japan’s maritime interests, it is crucial to closely monitor China’s activities and to avoid letting Japan’s research activities fall behind those of China. The JCG should carry out more efficient surveys in cooperation with other ministries while building more survey vessels.

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