By Ryuko Tadokoro
A month has passed since China’s new coast guard law allowing the China Coast Guard to use weapons entered into force. Since the law went into effect, there has been an increase in the number of incidents of the China Coast Guard entering Japan’s territorial waters near the Senkaku Islands in Okinawa Prefecture and chasing Japanese fishing vessels. In one instance, a Chinese government vessel that chased Japanese fishing boats was carrying what appeared to be a cannon. The Japanese government is increasingly wary that the risk of such intrusions resulting in a contingency is rising.
According to the Japan Coast Guard (JCG), Chinese government ships were spotted traveling in the contiguous waters outside of Japan’s territorial waters near the Senkakus on 26 separate days between Feb. 1 (the day the coast guard law came into effect) and March 1. The Chinese vessels entered the Japanese waters on six separate days and chased Japanese fishing boats on five out of the six days (for a total of three times—Feb. 6 to Feb. 7; Feb. 15 to Feb. 15; and Feb. 21).
Since Japan nationalized the Senkakus in 2012, official Chinese vessels chased Japanese fishing boats twice in 2013, once in 2014, and once in 2019. The number rose to eight in 2020. This year, there have already been four such incidents in two months, including the first one in January.
On Feb. 16, four official Chinese vessels chased two Japanese fishing boats simultaneously. One of the Chinese ships was carrying equipment that appeared to be a cannon. A Chinese vessel carrying cannon-like equipment had chased fishing boats in 2019 and 2020 as well, making this the third instance of such an abnormality.
It has been reported that the Chinese ships repeatedly make the following announcement while chasing other vessels: “Leave the area. These are China’s territorial waters.”
“Such unilateral actions and statements suggest that they are driving the Japanese boats out of the ‘territorial waters of China,’” says a Japanese government source. “China’s aim is likely to build up a record of effective ‘enforcement of Chinese law.’”
On March 1, Chief Cabinet Secretary Katsunobu Kato criticized the official Chinese vessels’ incursions into the Japanese waters around the Senkakus as violations of international law. He expressed serious concern about the Chinese vessels’ traveling in the contiguous waters; entering the Japanese waters; and approaching Japanese fishing boats after China’s coast guard law took effect and vowed to watch the situation closely with a sense of urgency.