Japan in Their Own Words (JITOW)/日本からの意見

China Takes Advantage of COVID-19 to Challenge and Change the Global Order
CHINO Keiko / Journalist

July 14, 2020
As COVID-19 sweeps the world, China’s unshakable resolve to change the post-war international order is becoming increasingly evident. One such maneuver is happening on Japan’s own turf.

Chinese government vessels navigated in the contiguous water area outside Japan’s territorial waters off the Senkaku Islands (Ishigaki City, Okinawa Prefecture), with occasional intrusions into Japan’s territorial waters, for 74 consecutive days (as of June 26) from April 14. This is the longest such incursion since the so-called nationalization of the Senkaku Islands in September 2012, and the record keeps mounting as of this writing. Whatever their intention may be, this is a startling and worrying situation. What is even more startling is how little sense of crisis is felt in the international community, especially among the Japanese people.

The longest record of such consecutive navigation by Chinese government vessels in the past was 64 consecutive days, from April 12 to June 14, 2019. The next longest record was 43 consecutive days from August 9 to September 20, 2014 followed by the recent navigation lasting for 37 consecutive days from March 6 to April 11, 2020.

In short, the Chinese government vessels navigated these waters for over 110 consecutive days this year, except for a 2-day break on April 12 and 13. Does this constitute a “new normal on the sea” in Chinese eyes?

Given China’s claim that the Senkaku Islands are their inherent territory and constitute their core interest, they would argue that the navigation of their government vessels is purely their domestic matter. Thus they have come to not only assert that these islands are their territory, but to put their assertion into action.

In addition to breaking the navigation record in the Japan’s waters, they escalated their arrogant actions, behaving as if they owned the place. Having intruded into Japanese territorial waters as they chased a Japanese fishing boat on May 8, the Chinese government vessels ignored Japan’s protest of their own infringement and responded imperiously that the fishing boat was conducting illegal fishing in Chinses territorial waters and demanded that Japan refrain from causing new troubles. Disregarding Japan’s warnings, the Chinese government vessels remained in the Japanese territorial waters for a few more days.

Some points out that this follows the first of the Thirty-six Secret Stratagems dating from ancient China: “Deceive the heavens to cross the ocean.” It is an art of war by which you deceive your adversary while wearing a completely innocent face. You openly keep doing one thing multiple times and create a constant state of false alarm until your opponent drops his guard, then you attack at will.

Admittedly, in the past, the appearance of large China Coast Guard vessels in the waters off the Senkaku Islands used to stir up the media. What about now? You will only find a small column tucked into the corner of one national newspaper simply mentioning the number of consecutive days of their appearance. It remains unreported by the rest. It seems that we are all but numbed by now. I am not at all sure to what extent the Japanese people are aware of the reality.

Thus the possibility can no longer be totally denied of a contingency on any day, at any time, where China might take advantage of a momentary lapse of vigilance on our part and land on the Senkaku Islands or engage in some agitation or provocation preliminary to the landing. China’s beef-up of its naval capability, operational integration of its Coast Guard with its Navy, growing self-confidence or even arrogance shown by its authorities and other circumstantial evidences suggest that the likelihood of the Senkaku Islands becoming the next hot spot is in no way diminished but augmented.

It was back in 1992, almost 30 years ago, when China quietly enacted its Territorial Sea Law encompassing the Spratly Islands and the Senkaku Islands. Though an adversarial act, one could grudgingly credit them for such a long-term strategy. Amidst the COVID-19 pandemic, China finally established its new administrative units, “Xisha District” and “Nansha District”, ignoring the territorial claims of Vietnam and the Philippines for the Spratly Islands. The Spratly Islands have long been regarded as fallen into Chinese hands. Now they have entered the final stage of “Chinalization”.

Who could say that the fate of the Spratly Islands and the Paracel Islands in the South China Sea today would not befall the Senkaku Islands in the East China Sea tomorrow? Now that China has the South more or less under control, they may have shifted their focus northward to deal with the Senkaku Islands or Taiwan. We should at least be vigilant. Effective control is everything when it comes to territorial disputes, and once it is taken away, it is too late.

China’s recent hegemonic and heavy-handed actions in East Asian waters might forebode serious consequences as described above. It is high time for Japan to sound the alarm with clearer statements and policies, underlining the nature and urgency of the problem to people at home and abroad. We have come to the limit of entrusting the protection of the sea solely to the Japan Maritime Safety Agency. They deserve our sympathy for being overburdened.

The international community needs a powerful alarm clock to awaken itself to China. If I speak with candor at the risk of being misunderstood, China’s actions at sea could be far more threatening to the peace and security of Japan and East Asia than North Korean missiles.

Chino Keiko is a freelance journalist and Guest Columnist of the Sankei Shimbun.
The English-Speaking Union of Japan

千野 境子 / ジャーナリスト

2020年 7月 14日













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English Speaking Union of Japan > Japan in Their Own Words (JITOW) > China Takes Advantage of COVID-19 to Challenge and Change the Global Order