There is an increasing likelihood that the next war could begin over islands in the Far East, as China has sought to expand its presence far beyond the mainland. While much attention has been paid to Beijing’s stance that it will return Taiwan – which it sees as a breakaway province – back under its control, the Chinese government has also laid claim numerous islands in the South China Sea.
It is the disputed Senkaku Islands in the East China Sea that now has Japanese officials reacting to the latest Chinese aggression, it was reported on Thursday. Japan has dispatched one of its largest coast guard vessels to provide maritime security operations around the islands, which China refers to as the Diaoyu Islands.
The Japanese newspaper Yomiuri Shimbun reported that the 6,500-ton patrol vessel Asazuki will join other Japanese coast guard vessels in patrolling the waters around the uninhabited islands in the East China Sea. The Reimei-class patrol vessel is one of the service’s most modern ships – and was only expected to be commissioned this year. It has surface-search and navigation radars, while its armament consists of a single-mounted Oelikon 35mm or 40mm autocannon along with two JM61 20mm machine guns. It can also carry a helicopter, but it is unclear if it was deployed with one on board.
According to the Japanese news outlet, this will be the first time the Asazuki will be assigned to the Ishigaki Coast Guard Office, which has jurisdiction over the security of the Senkaku Islands in Okinawa Prefecture. The patrol vessel will join twelve other Japanese patrol boats that have been dispatched to the Japanese-controlled waters.
Where the situation remains tenuous is that Beijing has also been deploying its own vessels to the region, and according to Japanese sources, four Chinese patrol boats have been sailing regularly to the contiguous zone and have “intruded into Japanese territorial waters 25 times.”
Newsweek had cited a white paper from the Japanese Defense Ministry, which reported a total of 1,161 Chinese maritime patrol ships to spend 333 days around the Senkaku Islands in 2020, including 111 consecutive days.
“We have repeatedly lodged severe protests regarding such activities by China through diplomatic channels,” said embassy spokesperson Masashi Mizobuchi. “The international community has voiced concerns in various ways about China’s unilateral attempts to change the status quo by force. We strongly oppose any unilateral actions that could escalate tensions, undermine regional stability and disrupt the international rules-based order.”
Beijing claims its ownership based on China’s discovery of the islands in the 14th century, while Japan maintained control of the islands from 1895 until the end of World War II. The United States administered the islands post-war until 1972 when control was returned to Japan. The current basis of contention over ownership is the latent undersea oil reserves that were discovered in 1968.
Peter Suciu is a Michigan-based writer who has contributed to more than four dozen magazines, newspapers and websites. He regularly writes about military small arms, and is the author of several books on military headgear including A Gallery of Military Headdress, which is available on Amazon.com.