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Tokyo strongly opposes Chinese ships entering Japanese waters off disputed East China Sea islands

The Philippine foreign minister took to Twitter to order action against a Chinese Coast Guard ship that was allegedly strayed off course in the disputed South China Sea. In a statement faxed to Reuters, the Chinese Foreign Ministry said the ship entered Chinese territorial waters near the Paracel Islands without permission on August 31 and was warned by the Chinese navy to leave the ship. Chinese President Xi Jinping’s visit to the Philippines, originally scheduled for April but postponed because of a coronavirus pandemic, is being thwarted by Tokyo’s ruling Liberal Democratic Party. [Sources: 9, 11, 16]

As joint patrols intensify, China has established an air defense identification zone (ADIZ) in the South China Sea, which is focused on intimidating Japan in particular. Inada’s comments indicate that Japan may be moving in that direction anyway, meaning that there could be a significant escalation of tensions between the two countries over the disputed islands and shoals. It is too early to speculate on whether China might follow through on its threat to establish an air defense identification zone around the Paracel Islands and other disputed parts of the sea. [Sources: 13, 15]

But supporting Taiwan in such an undertaking would be politically difficult for Tokyo, because such support would increase the risk that Beijing would see it as a violation of its territorial sovereignty over the South China Sea. This ambiguity has already improved China’s ability to strain Sino-American-Japanese relations, but it is also largely driven by Beijing’s own concerns about Japan’s support for Taiwan’s sovereignty and independence in the region. [Sources: 4, 17]

If relations with the People’s Republic of China are bad, Japan will probably do more to irritate China than Taiwan to signal its displeasure with Beijing. Disputes in the East China Sea have also contributed to growing tensions between China and Japan over territorial disputes in the region. Not surprisingly, Japan is increasingly concerned that China may be controlling its own territorial claims to the South China Sea and other parts of the Pacific Ocean. [Sources: 4, 15]

China’s growing economic power has allowed it to invest in larger ships that can operate farther and farther from its shores. The Chinese Coast Guard has taken on much – improved marine protection capabilities – in recent years, some of which have been deployed in the East China Sea. Today, it has a fleet of more than 1,000 vessels, compared with only about 500 in its predecessor, the People’s Republic of China’s Coast Guard. China claims most of the so-called nine-dash line of territorial claims to the South China Sea. [Sources: 1, 3]

Most strikingly, Chinese ships and planes now regularly maintain a presence on the disputed islands, challenging Japanese control. South China Sea observers say China ignored the April 30 protests because the Philippines lacked the political will to force its hand. Under Prime Minister Kono, Tokyo may even accelerate its plans to decouple its economy from China to control Beijing. It is clear that Japan will forever accept China’s territorial claims in the South China Sea and other parts of the Asia-Pacific region. [Sources: 2, 5, 6, 13]

But Tokyo faces an increasingly assertive China, which seems determined to become a full-fledged maritime powerhouse and has increased its naval capabilities accordingly. China’s island building is part of efforts, including the deployment of a strategic submarine to Hainan Island to turn the South China Sea into a “Chinese lake,” undermining the U.S. deterrent and Japanese security, Kotani said. Chinese naval vessels invade the territorial waters of the islands it is quite conceivable that the Japanese government will authorize its self-defense forces to use force. Faced with a rising naval power, Japan reaffirms its strong ties to the United States and forges alliances elsewhere. [Sources: 5, 12, 15]

But it has only gone so far that US President Barack Obama repeated in April that the US would come to Japan’s aid. Hagel reiterated that Washington stands by its mutual defense treaty with Japan and said it applies to the disputed islands in the South China Sea, where Beijing and Tokyo are locked in a territorial dispute over the Diaoyu Islands. Japanese Defense Minister Esper said he had reaffirmed his country’s commitment to apply the treaty’s provisions to the Japanese-controlled islands in the East China Sea claimed by China as the Senkaku Islands in its group, known as “Diaoyus” or Diaoysu. This was true for them as well as for other islands, such as the uninhabited Spratly Islands, a group of islands off the coast of South Korea. [Sources: 7, 8, 15]

Tensions with China were high when China’s aircraft carrier Liaoning sailed through the Miyako Strait into the Senkakus. While Hagel said U.S. ships would be sent to counter the threat from North Korea, the move carried symbolic weight as Japan stands by China over the tense archipelago in the East China Sea. [Sources: 8, 10]

The American public and elite, including some isolationists, strongly opposed Japan’s 1937 invasion of China. Abe was the first Japanese prime minister to visit China since the end of World War II and its few incursions into the islands. Tokyo and Beijing have agreed to improve crisis prevention mechanisms in the East China Sea, but public opinion has wavered in recent years as the United States has watched Japanese forces sweep up and down the coast. Beijing, for its part, has been recalcitrant and vociferous in its opposition to the deployment of Japanese warships in the South China Sea, and has vociferously opposed China’s plans for Japan to deploy warships near the South China Sea. [Sources: 0, 3, 14, 18]

Sources:

[0]: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/History_of_Japanese_foreign_relations [1]: https://www.japantimes.co.jp/news/2020/04/27/asia-pacific/politics-diplomacy-asia-pacific/high-seas-energy-fight-off-malaysia-draws-u-s-chinese-warships/ [2]: https://asiatimes.com/2020/09/what-will-japans-china-policy-be-post-abe/ [3]: https://warontherocks.com/2020/09/what-is-chinas-strategy-in-the-senkaku-islands/ [4]: https://www.brookings.edu/opinions/strong-but-constrained-japan-taiwan-ties/ [5]: https://tnsr.org/2019/09/more-significance-than-value-explaining-developments-in-the-sino-japanese-contest-over-the-senkaku-diaoyu-islands/ [6]: https://www.voanews.com/east-asia-pacific/voa-news-china/china-expected-ignore-philippine-protest-over-upgrade-disputed [7]: https://asia.nikkei.com/Politics/International-relations/Japan-and-US-defense-chiefs-agree-to-keep-China-in-check [8]: http://english.ahram.org.eg/News/98364.aspx [9]: https://www.hindustantimes.com/world-news/china-targets-japan-xi-s-visit-comes-under-cloud/story-XjDtPWmoLYEgL9Nzrmp0GL.html [10]: https://news.usni.org/2020/01/21/officials-u-s-japan-iron-fist-amphib-exercise-extremely-important-as-chinas-navy-expands-officials-say [11]: https://www.metro.us/exclusive-british-navy-warship-sails-near-south-china-sea-islands-angeringbeijing/ [12]: https://www.stripes.com/news/japan-should-join-us-efforts-in-south-china-sea-defense-expert-says-1.398537 [13]: https://www.bbc.com/news/world-asia-25116119 [14]: https://news.usni.org/2017/03/13/report-japans-largest-warship-heading-south-china-sea [15]: https://qz.com/780317/japan-and-china-are-ramping-up-maritime-tensions-in-the-south-china-sea-and-east-china-sea/ [16]: http://www.asahi.com/ajw/articles/AJ201910020054.html [17]: https://nautilus.org/projects/nuclear-policy/tmd-us-japan-relations-and-east-asian-security/ [18]: https://2001-2009.state.gov/r/pa/ho/time/wwii/88734.htm

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