Editor’s Note – As America recovers from “Super-Sandy”, and our Presidential campaigns gear back up after a short respite into the closing days, the world has been turning, especially in Syria and the western Pacific. China and Japan continue to jockey over the disputed Senkaku Islands that Japan purchased. Of course China thinks it historically owns everything it appears, and claims these islands as their own.
China also claims the Paracel Islands, the Spratlys and many other archipelago island chains near Vietnam, the Philippines, and Indonesia to name but a few. The reason behind these claims is in reality due to the mineral rights and fishing grounds.
By Kathrin Hille in Beijing and Michiyo Nakamoto in Tokyo – Financial Times
China has started making concerted efforts to chase Japanese ships out of waters surrounding the disputed Senkaku islands in the East China Sea, ratcheting up tensions between Asia’s two largest economies.
The Chinese State Oceanic Administration – which enforces the nation’s maritime interests – said four of its ships on Tuesday tried to expel Japanese vessels out of waters where they were operating “illegally”.
Japan controls the Senkaku islands, but they are also claimed by China – which calls them the Diaoyu – and Taiwan. The Japanese coastguard in recent months has been playing cat and mouse games with Chinese vessels sailing near the Senkaku, and sometimes entering waters that Japan says are its territory.
Japan’s coastguard said Chinese surveillance ships approached waters it controls close to 9am displaying a warning that read: “You are in waters administered by the People’s Republic of China. You are already breaching the law. Move away immediately.”
Japan’s coastguard said it responded by warning the Chinese ships not to enter Japanese waters. It said that four Chinese ships entered the waters it claims but then left. A Chinese ship had previously sent out such a warning in September, the JCG said.
This move by China could change the status quo in a dispute that has escalated in recent years, Chinese analysts said. Last month, Beijing announced a territorial baseline for the disputed islands that defined the exact geographical location of its claimed territory to back its long-standing claim.
“Chinese government vessels did not chase Japanese boats out of the islands’ territorial waters in the past, as these waters were an area controlled by the Japanese coastguard,” said Li Guoqiang, an expert on border issues at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences. “But the situation changed when we created a legal basis for enforcing our claim by announcing the territorial baseline for the islands in September.”
Beijing’s announcement was in reaction to Tokyo’s decision to nationalise some of the disputed islands, a move that set off a furious reaction in China.
The Japanese government said the step was aimed at preventing the nationalist governor of Tokyo, Shintaro Ishihara, from purchasing and developing the islands, and provoking China. However, Beijing has rejected that argument as a ruse.
Last week, Zhang Zhijun, China’s vice-foreign minister, again blasted Japan for the decision in an indication that a series of negotiations with his Japanese counterpart to seek a resolution to the current tension have run aground.
In the first half of September, dozens of Chinese cities witnessed large-scale anti-Japanese demonstrations, and some nationalists went on a rampage, damaging Japanese restaurants, department stores and Japanese-branded cars. There have also been some attacks against Japanese citizens in China.
Chinese maritime surveillance vessels and fisheries administration vessels have patrolled the waters round the islands almost daily over the past month. Chinese navy ships have also appeared in waters close to the islands twice over the past two months.
Mr Li said the Chinese government was still restraining itself and would not lightly add to the tension. “But if the Japanese don’t change their ways and return to the path of negotiation, such friction could increase,” he said. “Then, it would not be a question of just four vessels but many more.”