By Kiyota Higa of Yomiuri’s General Bureau of China and Yoichiro Tanaka in Hanoi
Ever since Japan nationalized the Senkaku Islands in 2012, the Chinese government under Xi Jinping has continuously sent China Coast Guard vessels to intrude into Japanese territorial waters in a bid to claim sovereignty over the islands. It appears that, through the new maritime security law, China intends to completely remove Japanese fishing boats [from the waters near the Senkakus] in order to create a fait accompli that it controls the waters.
John Chuan-tiong Lim, a Hong Kong-based expert on international politics, says that the Xi government is seeking “Japan-China joint control” over the waters near the Senkakus. He added that China will not try to seize the Senkakus by force for the time being as such an action would carry the risk of counterattack by the U.S. military. He suggested that China seems to be employing the strategy of first undermining Japan’s effective control over the islands.
China’s new maritime security law uses the unique criterion of “jurisdictional waters” as the scope of China’s law enforcement. In the past, the Supreme People’s Court (China’s supreme court) has ambiguously defined “jurisdictional waters” as China’s territorial waters, contiguous zones, exclusive economic zones (EEZs) as well as “other waters” over which China has jurisdiction.
This definition is incompatible with the ordinary interpretation of jurisdictional waters in international law. In November last year, however, Xi instructed [Chinese Communist Party leaders] to “firmly defend national sovereignty by using legislative, law enforcement, judicial, and other means.” The instruction clearly indicates Xi’s intention to push through China’s claims in the South and East China Seas on the grounds of domestic law.
The new maritime security law also stipulates that the artificial islands in the South China Sea, which Beijing is trying to turn into military bases, will be protected by the China Coast Guard. On Jan. 27, the foreign minister of the Philippines, which has a sovereignty issue with China, said that Manila had already lodged a protest against Beijing through diplomatic channels. The Vietnamese foreign ministry also warned China by issuing a statement on Jan. 29.