All papers reported on Saturday morning that Vice Foreign Minister Sugiyama spoke by phone with Chinese Ambassador Cheng Yonghua on Friday evening and lodged a protest against the underwater operation by a Chinese submarine on Thursday in the contiguous zone adjacent to territorial waters around the Senkaku Islands. Defense Minister Onodera expressed serious qualms by calling it “an act that unilaterally raised tension” based on the assessment that the Chinese military operation was an attempt to alter the status quo. The GOJ had confirmed earlier that the submarine belonged to the PLA Navy since it surfaced in international waters northwest of the outcrops and hoisted a Chinese flag on Friday afternoon. Yomiuri said the GOJ strongly called for the Chinese government not to repeat such operations out of concern that the emerging political thaw between the two capitals could be derailed. According to today’s papers, Onodera disclosed on Monday that the vessel was a nuclear-powered attack submarine. Sankei wrote that Japan decided to reveal the nationality of the submarine in order to show the international community that China’s provocations are escalating.
Asahi speculated that the submarine operation off the Senkakus was perhaps intended to demonstrate to the SDF and the U.S. military the PLA Navy’s intention to expand its submarines’ scope of operations. The paper said although the Chinese government is interested in improving political ties with Tokyo, the PLA appears to be maintaining its hard line toward Japan with regard to the territorial dispute with Japan.
In a related story, Sunday’s Yomiuri asserted that the China Coast Guard, which is currently under the jurisdiction of the Ministry of Public Security, is likely to be moved to the Central Military Commission, which oversees the PLA. The paper speculated that that one of the purposes of the change is to make the coast guard’s patrol activities in such sensitive areas as the vicinity of the Senkakus more efficient in coordination with the PLA Navy. The paper added that patrols around the disputed outcrops may be conducted as “quasi-military operations.”
Meanwhile, Saturday’s Yomiuri reported that the Japan Coast Guard (JCG) has decided to develop as many as four port facilities across Japan to host nine large patrol boats to be procured in the near future to enable the JCG to respond more swiftly to intrusions into territorial waters near the Senkakus by the Chinese and illegal fishing in the nation’s EEZ in the Sea of Japan by DPRK fishermen. Such facilities will probably be constructed in Kagoshima Prefecture, the islands of Miyako and Ishigaki in Okinawa, and Tsuruga in Fukui Prefecture starting in FY2019.