Fri, 26 Feb 2021

Tokyo [Japan], February 12 (ANI): Japan for the first time will station a coast guard patrol vessel in the Ogasawara Islands, about 1,000km south of Tokyo, to counter Chinese ships.

This security measure comes in response to illegal activities by Chinese ships in and around Japan's territorial waters near the islands.

The Japan Coast Guard announced it would deploy the 180-ton patrol vessel Mikazuki to the Ogasawara Islands in the coming months and will also increase the number of officers stationed there. Previously, the coastguard has had to respond to incidents near the islands by dispatching a vessel from its headquarters in Yokohama, just south of Tokyo, reported South China Morning Post.

In the early 2014, 11 people were arrested for illegal activities near the islands, such as coral poaching in Japanese territorial waters.

Taking actions against operating illegally in Japan's exclusive economic zone (EEZ), the government increased the fines from 10 million yen (USD 94,782) to 30 million yen (USD 284,347), while the fine for refusing an inspection has risen from 300,000 yen (USD 2,843) to 3 million yen (USD 28,434).

According to SCMP, in addition to concerns over the economic damage caused by illegal fishing, Tokyo has been alarmed at China's efforts to collect data on the geography and composition of the seabed in and around Japan's territorial waters.

Last year, in the month of January, Tokyo lodged a protest against Beijing through diplomatic channels after a ship operated by China's State Oceanic Administration was monitored within Japan's EEZ around Okinotorishima.

The survey vessel may have been attempting to investigate the natural deposits beneath the seabed, including oil and gas, although analysts also believe it may have been mapping the deep water passages that would permit China's growing fleet of submarines to sortie into the Pacific, SCMP reported. Meanwhile, Japan insists its most southerly atoll should be recognised as an island and, therefore, allow it to claim the surrounding 400,000 square kilometres as its EEZ. Not only are these waters important fishing grounds, but research has indicated significant natural resources - including rare earth metals - beneath the seabed.

China, South Korea and Taiwan insist, however, that Okinotorishima is an atoll that has been artificially built up and is just 16cm above the high tide level. Given that, they argue it does not meet the United Nations' definition of an island - primarily that it is large enough to support human habitation - and that Japan therefore has no right to the surrounding waters, SCMP reported. The coastguard said it would "sternly deal with illegal operations by foreign ships near the islands" by dispatching the Mikazuki.

"There is a lot of concern in Tokyo about illegal fishing by Chinese vessels in these waters, particularly given the long reaction times for vessels docked in Yokohama," SCMP quoted Garren Mulloy, a professor of international relations at Daito Bunka University and an authority on defence issues. Chinese government surveillance ships are a "more complicated" issue, he said, with Japan's likely response to be challenging the vessel as to its purpose, requesting that it leave Japanese waters and then shadowing the intruder until that is achieved, SCMP reported.

If Beijing refuses to accept Tokyo's control over the EEZ around Okinotorishima, that will leave both sides in a stand-off with parallels to the situation around the Senkaku Islands in the East China Sea.

The uninhabited Senkaku Islands in the East China Sea are controlled by Japan but also claimed by China and Taiwan, which call them Diaoyu and Tiaoyutai, respectively. Toshimitsu Shigemura, a professor of international relations at Tokyo's Waseda University, believes Japan is bracing for a significant uptick in "provocative" manoeuvres by China, SCMP reported.

"I expect that Beijing will try to test the strength of the Japan-US security alliance in a number of ways, just to see the reactions of President [Joe] Biden," he said adding "I think we are going to see more activity around the Senkaku Islands and it would be no surprise if, once again, there are large numbers of Chinese fishing boats attempting to enter Japanese waters. "The joint responses from Tokyo and Washington will then have an impact on China's next steps, either further tests or a return to more of a status quo situation," he said. (ANI)

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