Japan Should Take Harsher Measures Against China’s Intrusions Into Territorial Waters

Seiji Fuji

Enhancing maritime security with domestically produced underwater drones

 On February 2, the Political Section of The Yomiuri Shimbun included a small article entitled, “Underwater Drone Part Standardization: Government Strategy for Domestic Production.” It read:

The government has determined a strategy to domestically produce autonomous underwater vehicles (AUVs) by the end of the year. These fully autonomous, unmanned vehicles can be operated underwater. It clearly stated that steps will be taken to reduce manufacturing costs by ensuring standardization and compatibility for equipment, parts, and software. It will also encourage Japanese companies to enter the AUV manufacturing market.
Also called “underwater drones,” AUVs do not need to be connected by cables to boats, nor do they require human operators. They can be utilized in wide-ranging areas.
Japan currently uses AUVs for purposes including marine resource development, submarine topography surveys, and research. It is expected that AUVs will be useful for topography surveys, maintenance, and inspections for building offshore wind power plants, as well as infrastructure management at port facilities and other locations. There are also expectations regarding increased applications in the national security field, including submarine observation.
Most of the AUVs used in Japan were produced in foreign countries, and Japanese companies have been slow to enter this market. The government plans to incorporate into its strategy policies for supporting human resource development and overseas expansion by manufacturers, with the goal of opposing the United States and China, who are leaders in this field.
The government will set forth a basic vision for this strategy in its next Basic Plan on Ocean Policy to be determined in May.

 Because they are programmed for autonomous operation in the ocean, AUVs are also called “underwater drones” or “unmanned underwater survey robots.” The Technology Planning and International Affairs Division of the Japan Coast Guard (JCG) Hydrographic and Oceanographic Department published a report in May 2022, “JCG Hydrographic and Oceanographic Department’s Next-generation Mobility in the Ocean,” with detailed information on how these AUVs are actually utilized. To improve its oceanographic survey capabilities, the JCG has since 2013 used two types of AUVs made by IHI (a Japanese company) and a Canadian company. This includes detailed topography surveys of the seafloor, which cannot be fully seen from survey ships atop the sea. Given that AUVs are autonomous and require no cables or similar equipment, they are extremely useful for oceanographic surveys, with the potential that they can also be used in national security. As an island nation, I believe Japan should acquire more AUV drones to protect its territory, which includes the oceans, Senkaku Islands, and Yaeyama Islands. Japan should also enhance the Japan Self-Defense Forces (JSDF) Fleet Submarine Force.
 With each passing year, China is strengthening its military force founded on its growing economic power. It is now attempting to take actions based on this context. On February 7, four China Coast Guard vessels were confirmed in the contiguous zone of the Senkaku Islands region – the front line between China and Japan. According to the article, Chinese ships had continually appeared in that area for 13 consecutive days at that point. Although JCG patrol boats are warning Chinese government vessels not to approach Japanese territorial waters, the Chinese ships can utilize weapons according to the Coast Guard Law of China that came into effect in 2021. They are blatantly putting pressure on Japan through actions such as displaying machine guns. There is a high possibility that China will make relentless demands of Japan in the future, including the Senkaku Islands issue. Japan must obtain a suitable level of military strength to protect its interests and oppose China.

PAFMM is moving from the South China Sea to the East China Sea

 In addition to Chinese government vessels, we must also be concerned about fishing boats with members of the People’s Armed Forces Maritime Militia (PAFMM). On September 11, 2022, NHK NEWS WEB posted an article titled, “NHK’s Analysis: PAFMM Riding on Chinese Fishing Boats, Some Near the Senkaku Islands?”

NHK performed an analysis as China steps up its marine expansion. According to these results, an American research institute stated that some Chinese fishing boats, identified as possibly carrying PAFMM members, were operating in the East China Sea as well. They are traveling in the ocean near the Senkaku Islands (Okinawa Prefecture).
The Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS), an American think tank, is paying particular attention to large Chinese fishing boats carrying PAFMM members with military training.
The CSIS believes these vessels are performing regular fishing work while also demonstrating force in ocean areas, and carrying out reconnaissance and observation.
In March of last year, more than 200 Chinese fishing boats remained anchored in the area claimed by the Filipino government as its exclusive economic zone (EEZ) – a region where China and the Philippines are involved in a territorial dispute. The U.S. Department of State believes these fishing boats carried PAFMM members.
The CSIS used publicly released Chinese information and other data to identify fishing boats in the South China Sea that may be carrying PAFMM members. Based on this, NHK analyzed data on 122 vessels from the automatic identification system (AIS) that transmits information about ship locations.
The results indicated that more than 10 of these vessels also traveled in the East China Sea within 200 kilometers of the Senkaku Islands last year.
It was confirmed that some of them operated in the Senkaku territorial waters and contiguous zone.

 PAFMM members “are lightly armed and specially trained. They receive money from the Chinese government for fuel, as well as subsidies for ship repairs.” “Ostensibly engaged in fishing, they do a range of activities to achieve China’s political and military objectives.” These militiamen are pretending to be fishermen while repeatedly trespassing into Japanese territorial waters and attempting to violate Japan’s seas along with government vessels. They are doing this in a gradual fashion that is hard to dispute. I believe Japan must determine a standard in light of these circumstances and take somewhat harsher measures to cope with it.

To prevent a repeat of the Takeshima debacle, we must not allow China to land

 There is at least one country dealing with China in a resolute way: the nation of Palau. This is described in Is it Wrong to Fight? What We Should Achieve Today in our Bushido Nation After the Disappearance of the Samurai, Nami Katsuragi’s book that won the fourth APA Japan Restoration Grand Prize. I agree entirely with what she writes:

The Republic of Palau’s population is just 18,000 people. Although it has no military, in 2012 police officers from this tiny nation pursued a Chinese boat engaged in illegal fishing, and fired warning shots to stop the ship. The fishing boat ignored this warning and launched two small boats to continue its operations. When Palauan police officers intercepted these boats and shot at their engines to force them to stop, they mistakenly shot and killed one Chinese citizen. Without faltering, the police arrested the remaining five men on the boat. Twenty other crew members set fire to the fishing boat to destroy evidence and jumped into the ocean. All 25 men were arrested and prosecuted in the end. Japan’s population totals 125.57 million people (as of January 1, 2021) – 6,976 times larger than Palau. This should convey a much greater advantage, but Japan has tolerated illegal fishing in its territorial waters for many years.

 My greatest fear is that PAFMM members disguised as fishermen might land on the Senkaku Islands on some pretext, such as needing to evacuate from a typhoon. If they remained there, the Senkaku area could become a de facto Chinese territory. We should recall what happened at Takeshima, which is clearly a Japanese territory under international law and based on historical fact. South Korea claimed dominion over that area when it unliterally drew the “Syngman Rhee Line” in 1952. The Dokdo Volunteer Garrison landed on the uninhabited Takeshima in 1953 and has continuously occupied the island ever since. A non-governmental organization – a so-called “volunteer garrison” – served as the vanguard to occupy the island, rather than a police force or other official government authority waging a landing operation. Yet once people have made landfall on an island, it is extremely difficult to remove them. A JCG patrol boat approached Takeshima in 1954, then turned back after being shot at. To prevent anyone from landing on Japanese islands, I think our first step must be dealing more harshly with ships in territorial waters.

The JSDF’s shackles must be removed to ensure citizen safety

 The international community recognizes the right of innocent passage through territorial waters, but countries can take harsh measures against ships carrying out activities beyond this scope. In contrast, no right of innocent passage applies to territorial airspace; violating another nation’s airspace without permission is an illegal act under international law. If an aircraft does not promptly leave or otherwise respond to warnings, it can be immediately shot down or dealt with in another fashion. China and Russia are also putting pressure on Japan by entering its airspace, and Air Self-Defense Force fighters are scrambling more and more frequently in recent years. A hot topic in February was the Chinse balloon that flew into American airspace. China stated that this object was a weather balloon brought to the U.S. by westerly winds. On February 4, the U.S. shot down this flying object due to its incursion into American airspace, using a missile from a F-22 fighter aircraft. China criticizes the U.S. for overreacting, but even a private-sector balloon would still be violating American airspace by traveling there without prior warning. In my opinion, China has nothing to complain about in this case.
 What would happen if a balloon flew over Japan? Let us refer to The Nikkei article published on February 5: “JSDF Would Scramble for Vigilance and Surveillance if a Balloon Came to Japan.”

The U.S. shot down a Chinese spy balloon. If a similar balloon arrived in Japan, the JSDF would engage in “vigilance and surveillance” activities, including fighter aircraft scrambling. Incursions into another country’s territorial airspace are against international law. Countries are not prohibited from using weapons to obstruct these actions, even against a balloon.
At a press conference on February 3, Ministry of Defense Spokesperson Takeshi Aoki was questioned if any similar cases have occurred in Japan. He replied, “Thus far we have not confirmed or made any announcements about balloons violating our airspace.”
He explained that a balloon is considered an aircraft under international law, and that territorial incursions are dealt with according to the specific situation.
When a balloon-like object flew over Miyagi Prefecture and other areas in June 2020, then-Minister of Defense Taro Kono merely stated, “We are continually carrying out vigilance and surveillance with radar and other equipment.” He said there was “no impact on national security,” and did not view the incident as an airspace violation by a foreign country.
If an aircraft trespasses into the skies over Japan’s territory, Article 84 of the Self-Defense Forces Act allows the JSDF to take necessary measures to force the aircraft to land or depart. This also applies to small, unmanned aircraft (drones).
A Chinese government vessel launched a drone in May 2017 that entered territorial airspace near the Senkaku Islands in Okinawa Prefecture. The JSDF has confirmed 45 violations since Japan began taking measures against airspace incursions in 1958. Forty-two of these were carried out by Russia and the former Soviet Union, two by China, and one by Taiwan.
If an aircraft does not abide by warnings or other directions, the JSDF can use missiles and other weapons only in cases that meet the conditions for legitimate self-defense or emergency evacuation. Compared to the U.S. that promptly shot down the Chinese balloon, it is likely that Japan would not immediately use weapons.
The JSDF actually utilizes fighters and other equipment to start responding from the moment an aircraft is discovered entering Japan’s air defense identification zone (ADIZ), an area established outside of territorial airspace. There may not be enough time for self-defense if it waits until the aircraft reaches Japan’s territorial airspace.
In FY2021, JSDF fighters scrambled 1,004 times in response to ADIZ violations – the second-largest number in history. A total of 70% were responding to Chinese aircraft.

 Some theorize Japan would have a difficult time shooting down a seemingly harmless balloon. Minister of Defense Yasukazu Hamada declared at a press conference on February 7 that Japan would shoot down a balloon when needed. While I think this is a reasonable viewpoint, the JSDF is limited because it can only utilize weapons for legitimate self-defense or emergency evacuation. No other military across the world is shackled in this way. We must carry out legal reform as quickly as possible to allow the use of weapons and court-martials. If necessary, we should also amend the constitution. More citizens must understand that Japan cannot sufficiently protect its territory and people if this is not accomplished quickly.

February 9 (Thursday), 12:00 p.m.