Why China is not only targeting the Senkaku Islands, but continues to conduct suspicious surveys in the Pacific Ocean

Why China is not only targeting the Senkaku Islands, but continues to conduct suspicious surveys in the Pacific Ocean.


On January 13, a Chinese official ship intruded into Japanese territorial waters around the Senkaku Islands in Okinawa Prefecture. On January 13, a Chinese ship intruded into Japanese territorial waters around the Senkaku Islands in Okinawa Prefecture, and the government made a stern protest to the Chinese side after the ship moved closer to a Japanese fishing boat. However, journalist Atsushi Miyata points out that “China is not only targeting the Senkaku Islands.

 But China is not only after the Senkaku Islands.

 In a speech in Tokyo on December 19, last year, Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga emphasized that during his telephone conversation with U.S. President-elect Biden, Biden clearly stated that the Senkaku Islands in Okinawa Prefecture would be covered by Article 5 of the Japan-U.S. Security Treaty, which stipulates the obligation to defend Japan.

 Article 5 of the Japan-U.S. Security Treaty states that Japan and the U.S. “shall act to deal with common dangers” in the event of an “armed attack against either side in territory under the administration of the State of Japan.

 Perhaps Japan’s leaders are so anxious that in the Naoto Kan administration, Foreign Minister Seiji Maehara confirmed with Secretary of State Clinton in 2010, and Prime Minister Shinzo Abe confirmed with President Obama in 2014 and President Trump in 2017 that the Senkaku Islands are covered by Article 5.

 In his speech, Prime Minister Kan emphasized that the Senkaku Islands were a hot topic, but did he mention any other islands? In addition to the Senkaku Islands, there are other islands in Tokyo that are important for the security of Japan and the United States. It is the southernmost territory of Japan, Okinotori-shima (Ogasawara Village, Tokyo).

 The Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) with a radius of 200 nautical miles (about 370 km) established around Okinotori-shima is about 12 times the size of Japan (about 400,000 square kilometers). It is said that methane hydrate and rare earths are lying dormant in this seabed.

 However, the island is uninhabited and its surface area at high tide is only about four and a half tatami mats.

 It was in 2004 that China began to claim that Okinotori-shima was not an island but a rock. When Japan protested against China’s repeated surveys without Japan’s consent, China insisted that Okinotori-shima was “not an island but a rock. Furthermore, China has changed the name of Okinotori-shima to Okinotori Reef.

 Okinotori-shima, which at high tide (storm surge) has only two islets poking out slightly above the surface of the sea, meets the requirements of Article 121, paragraph 1 of the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea, which states that it is a naturally formed land area that remains above the surface of the water at high tide.

 Originally, however, China had no problem with Okinotori-shima being part of Japan’s territory. On the contrary, China’s official military newspaper, the Liberation Army News, favorably reported on Okinotori-shima in 1988.

 In the article, it praised Japan’s protection of Okinotori-shima with wave dissipating blocks and concrete to prevent it from being cut by waves as “a wonderful thing” and even wrote that “Japan is trying to build a port, buildings, and an airfield. (Quoted in a lecture by Shigeo Hiramatsu, former professor at Kyorin University, February 15, 2010)

The photo is an image (Getty Images)

 This was because China, which had expanded into the South China Sea, was doing the same thing. They were trying to justify China’s actions in the South China Sea by bringing up what Japan was doing.

 However, China’s favorable attitude changed drastically when the Chinese Navy began to advance from the East China Sea to the Western Pacific through the Miyako Strait; in April 2010, it advanced its fleet of 10 ships to the area around Okinotori-shima and conducted anti-submarine warfare drills and other activities.

This action by China is probably due to its fear that Okinotori-shima will become a military base for Japan. If radar and anti-ship missiles are deployed, the Chinese navy will not be able to move freely.

 The year after the Chinese navy conducted its exercises (2011), the Japanese government designated Okinotori-shima as a “designated outlying island” as a base for protecting its EEZ rights, and decided to promote development by building ports and roads.

 The last time China conducted a marine survey outside the waters surrounding Okinotori-shima was between 2001 and 2003. At that time, the surveys were detailed and included not only resource exploration but also the collection of scientific data on the topography, currents, water temperature, and salinity of the sea floor. This data is necessary for the deployment of submarines.

 Since 2004, various surveys have been conducted in the vicinity of Okinotori-shima, and in 2020, for ten consecutive days in July, the Chinese oceanographic research vessel “Taiyo-go” lowered a wire-like object into the sea and conducted survey activities, ignoring warnings from Japan Coast Guard patrol vessels to continue its survey.

 According to international law, surveys within the EEZ require the consent of the coastal state. Therefore, in order to conduct a marine survey around Okinotori-shima, the consent of the Japanese side is required.

 In 2001, when China began conducting marine surveys in Japan’s EEZ, the government was in a state of confusion, with Foreign Minister Makiko Tanaka defending the Chinese side at the House of Representatives Foreign Affairs Committee, saying, “There is no international law that prohibits resource surveys in EEZs.

 China took advantage of this confusion in the Japanese government to continue its illegal oceanographic surveys. As a result, China was able to freely operate its submarines in the Western Pacific.

 As a result of tracking the movements of Chinese oceanographic research vessels over the past year until November 4, 2020, based on publicly available data from the Automatic Identification System (AIS), which transmits the position and course of the vessels, it was found that of the 34 Chinese research vessels (with a total capacity of 307 to 20,000 tons) for which information could be confirmed, 40%, or 13 vessels, had entered the Pacific Ocean.

 The South China Sea, where China claims territorial rights, has already been turned into a military base, and it is believed that China has set its sights on maritime rights in the Pacific Ocean as its next target.

 According to IHI Jet Service, a fleet of 32 fishing boats appeared around the Senkaku Islands in April. According to IHI Jet Service, a fleet of 32 fishing boats appeared around the Senkaku Islands in April, all of which had identification codes for use in case of distress, but some of them shared the same numbers with about 150 Chinese vessels, including a completely different tanker. (Source: “Nihon Keizai Shimbun,” November 25, 2020)

 Japan must contain the movement of illegal Chinese ships. However, there are no Japanese laws to crack down on foreign ships or foreigners, including such Chinese ships, and they cannot be forcibly stopped through seizure or arrest.

 For this reason, in July 2020, the Japanese government began to consider the development of a law that would enable it to crack down on research vessels. It envisions enacting a new law or revising the law to allow the Coast Guard to seize or arrest foreign vessels, even in the case of scientific oceanographic research.

Photo is an image (Getty Images)

 China also conducts large-scale military exercises with its naval vessels. Looking at press materials from the Ministry of Defense and other sources, some of the Chinese navy ships and bombers that have exited the East China Sea into the Pacific Ocean via the Miyako Strait are believed to be conducting drills in the waters west of Okinotori-shima.

 The reason for training around Okinotori-shima is that it is located in the middle of the straight route connecting Guam and the Miyako Strait. The area around Okinotori-shima is steeply deep, with water depths ranging from 4,000 to 7,000 meters. This means that Japanese, U.S., and Chinese submarines can operate freely around Okinotori-shima.

The area around Okinotori-shima will be of great importance to U.S. and Chinese naval power in the future. This is because it will become an important area of operation for the Chinese navy to use its submarines and mines to block the U.S. carrier task force that will be deployed in the event of an emergency in Taiwan.

 China is trying to change the status quo in which the U.S. military dominates the Pacific and Indian Oceans by 2040. To achieve this, it has a plan to build a navy with equal power to the US Navy. The plan has been revised frequently in response to changes in the times, but the basic framework is still in place.

 This is China’s strategy in its attempt to bring Okinotori-shima under its influence as it moves into the western Pacific.

 China’s approach is to first dispatch oceanographic research vessels, then conduct military exercises, and gradually create a pre-existing fact. In other words, the military exercises in the vicinity of Okinotori-shima mean that China is entering a new stage of its effective control.

 China is rapidly turning the Nansha Islands and other areas in the South China Sea into its military base, and the possibility that it will take the same action in Okinotori-shima cannot be ruled out. For Okinotori-shima, which is so small that China refers to it as a “rock,” there is no need for the kind of landing operations envisioned for the Senkaku Islands.

 China has claimed sovereignty over the Nansha Islands, building artificial islands and installing airfields and radar. While disputing territorial rights with the Philippines, Vietnam, and Malaysia, China even unilaterally established an administrative zone in the South China Sea in April this year (2020).

 The Ministry of Defense’s plan to upgrade the Maritime Self-Defense Force’s Izumo destroyer into a de facto aircraft carrier capable of carrying fighter jets is probably done with China’s activities in the Western Pacific in mind, as I have mentioned so far.

 The occupation of the inhabited Southwestern Islands could lead to the development of a battle with the U.S., but in the case of uninhabited islands, the U.S. would not be able to easily enter into a battle with China.

 However, in the case of uninhabited islands, the U.S. will not be able to easily go to war with China. The U.S. does not want to go to war with China, which has a powerful military. In the event of an all-out war, nuclear missiles could be used, and it is obvious that both sides would suffer tremendous damage. In order to prevent a war between the U.S. and China from developing into a war over uninhabited islands, the SDF will have to deal with the situation alone.

 In the first place, if China moves at a level that cannot be called an armed attack, the US military will not move. Rather than Article 5, we should consider measures to be taken in the event that China occupies the area by exploiting gray areas that cannot be called “aggression,” such as the landing of plainclothes “maritime militias” disguised as fishermen.

 It is a matter of course for Japan to protect its territory. Article 5 of the Japan-U.S. Security Treaty is supposed to be invoked only when an attack on Japan exceeds (or is expected to exceed) the ability of the Self-Defense Forces to respond.

 Do Japan’s leaders, who have been relying on the U.S. military from the beginning, have no faith in the capabilities of the SDF, even though they are the supreme commander of the SDF?

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