The government plans to effectively exclude Chinese survey ships from oceanographic research as part of private economic activities conducted in Japanese territorial waters, it has been learned.
Following a series of cases in which Chinese survey ships tried to conduct research in Japanese territorial waters last year, the government judged it would be necessary to avoid the risk of information on seafloor topography and other issues being used by China for military purposes.
The government has already established a system for that and has begun operating it. Such measures for oceanographic research activities will be included in a national economic security strategy to be compiled before the end of this year, and the government hopes that the public and private sectors will work together on the issue.
More specifically, the government reportedly will require companies hoping to conduct marine research activities for constructing offshore wind power generation facilities and laying submarine cables to report owners of survey ships to be operated in the Japanese territorial waters (12 nautical miles, or about 22 kilometers, from the shoreline), data management methods and other issues in advance.
Reports submitted will be shared via the maritime security liaison conference headed by Deputy Chief Cabinet Secretary Kazuhiro Sugita among the National Security Secretariat, the National Police Agency, the Public Security Intelligence Agency and other bodies and be checked from the security perspective.
If there are security concerns, survey conductors will be requested to review their survey systems. If they refuse the request and their survey ships wander or make erratic movements in Japanese territorial waters, the Japan Coast Guard will force such ships to leave under the Law on Navigation of Foreign Ships through the Territorial Sea and Internal Waters, which prohibits such actions.
The government will beef up measures because it confirmed three cases in which China-related survey ships tried to conduct research activities in Japanese territorial waters last year, which prompted concerns over the risk of research results being used for military purposes via Chinese government bodies and others.
According to multiple sources close to the Japanese government, it confirmed last year two seabed research cases for the purpose of constructing offshore wind power generation facilities and one marine survey case for laying submarine cables.
Of these, in the case of ocean floor research off Akita Prefecture in April, an oceanic survey ship belonging to a marine geological survey institution of China was commissioned by a Japanese business company. In the remaining two cases, a private company based in Hong Kong was supposed to be commissioned to make oceanographic surveys off the Izu Peninsula and off Kagoshima Prefecture.
The government grasped the cases after being contacted about ship arrivals at ports and by other means, then asked these companies for cooperation citing security concerns. As a result, both of these companies accepted the cancellation of their surveys.
Information on seabed topography, seawater temperatures and other issues will make it easier for submarines and others to take covert actions. If submarine cables are manipulated, it will prompt concerns over confidential information being stolen. When surveys are conducted for economic activity purposes, foreign vessels can conduct marine research activities in Japanese territorial waters if they complete necessary procedures, and this was a loophole. For these reasons, the government established the maritime security liaison conference after the series of cases.
“Since there are security concerns, we will deal with the situation to reduce risks to zero,” a source close to the government said.