While the Islamic State (IS) and the Russia conflicts have been receiving the world’s attention, China has finished its runway expansion on Woody Island, which is the largest of the Paracel Islands in the South China Sea. It has been reported that the expanded runway makes possible the use of all kinds of military planes. Four fuel tanks and two large radars have also been built, and the expansion of the harbor is continued. This runway expansion could suggest that Chinese air and naval forces would be based on this island in the near future.[1] The Paracel Islands are disputed between Vietnam and China since 1974 when China captured Woody Island from South Vietnam.

Likewise, the appearance of Chinese fishing boats and coast guard vessels around the Senkaku/Diaoyu Islands, a conflict zone between China and Japan, is becoming an everyday event for the Japanese coast guard in the East China Sea. In addition, hundreds of Chinese fishing boats have illegally been fishing around Izu and Ogasawara Islands in the Pacific Ocean. These islands belong to Tokyo and are UNESCO world heritage sites. The Chinese fishermen illegally harvest red coral that can be sold at a high price in China.

The Japanese coast guard might be overburdened since the Senkaku Islands area in the East China Sea and now additionally the Izu-Ogasawara Islands become hot spots. Although the Japan Coast Guard is planning to increase its patrol vessels, it might be unable to effectively control Japan’s EEZ (Exclusive Economic Zone) by means of conventional ways against this human wave sea strategy. China holds a 10 times larger population than Japan. Chinese fishers are allegedly paid by the Chinese government to sail into Japan’s EEZ. Although harvesting red coral is a profitable business, a good catch is not guaranteed. The doubt is – considering the high cost of fuel – that it is not quite logical that hundreds of fishing boats daily sail such a long distance from Chinese coasts to the Japanese Pacific area.[2]

The Japanese parliament is discussing both increasing the fine on the trespassers and further dispatching the Self Defense-Force (SDF) besides the policemen. However, it might not be wise to dispatch the SDF against Chinese fishermen. The Chinese government could be just waiting for the opportunity to send its Navy into the Japanese Pacific area. Japan should be really aware of its situation and location as a maritime nation that encompasses so many inhabited and uninhabited islands. Japan should make full use of its high technology capabilities to efficiently defend its territory against large numbers of civilians seemingly “subsidized” by the Chinese government; otherwise, Japan would only exhaust itself by these cat and mouse games. A heavy fine and an increasing number of control vessels are – needless to say – important, but it would not work if the Chinese government paid the fishermen to sail into the Japanese EEZ to fish and wear out the Japanese coast guard. Unfortunately, Japan neither has such a huge population like China nor the possibility to mobilize its fishermen as the Chinese government does. It is a good chance for Japan, being dependent on limited and dwindling human powers, to rethink and remodel its maritime defense strategy. This problem can become much more serious for Japan in just a few decades if not before.

 

About author:

 

Dr. phil. Kumiko Ahr-Okutomo

Born in Japan.

 

She wrote her doctoral thesis, supervised by Professor Albert A. Stahel (Strategic Studies) at the University of Zurich, about power shifts in East Asia and Japan’s security politics. She is now a research associate at the Institute of Strategic Studies of Professor Stahel.

[1] Sankei News: Chugoku, Minami Shinakai de Kassoro kakucho (China expanded a runaway in the South China Sea), October 8, 2014. [accessed October 10, 2014] http://www.sankei.com/world/news/141008/wor1410080038-n1.html

[2] Sankei News: Sango Mitsuryo no shinnonerai wa Senkakuda (The true purpose of illegal coral harvesting is gaining Senkaku), November 6, 2014. [accessed November 6, 2014] http://www.sankei.com/column/news/141106/clm1411060001-n1.html

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