Japanese military forces are preparing for a naval confrontation with up to 100 Chinese fishing vessels swarming around the Japanese Senkakus Islands in the East China Sea. China has been increasingly using its massive “fishing fleet” – often escorted by the Chinese Coast Guard and other government vessels – to attempt to illegally impose de-facto control over contested waters and now, even Japanese islands.
Newsweek reported that “China is determined to take the Senkakus,” adding that Chinese officials, according to Japan’s Sankei News, informed Tokyo that it “is not entitled to demand” the boats leave – “a clear Chinese assertion of sovereignty over the islands.”
June Teufel Dreyer, a Japan and China expert at The University of Miami, said this Chinese statement is “new and different and no good.”
Because of persistent efforts to control the surrounding seas, Newsweek added, some expect China to soon declare “administrative control” over the Senkakus.
China believes this tactic works because during the Obama administration, it did. Even though these islands are, according to several U.S. statements, covered by Article 5 of the U.S.-Japan mutual defense treaty, during China’s first similar major provocation in 2012, Obama did nothing.
As Newsweek noted:
In early 2012, both Chinese and Philippine vessels swarmed the shoal…550 nautical miles from the closest Chinese landmass. Washington then brokered a deal for both sides to withdraw their craft. Only Manila complied.
To avoid confrontation with a militant Beijing, the Obama administration did nothing to enforce the agreement. What the White House did, by doing nothing, was empower the most belligerent elements in the Chinese political system by showing everybody else that aggression in fact worked.
The result was that for the past eight years, Beijing has been aggressively sending vessels and aircraft into Japan’s territorial water and airspace, recently setting a record of 111-straight days of incursions – ended only by an incoming typhoon, reported South China Morning Post (SCMP).
“It appears very much as if China is attempting to supplant Japan’s coastguard in those waters in terms of their ability to control and safeguard other ships,” said Garren Mulloy, a professor at Japan’s Daito Bunkyo University, reported SCMP.
“That means they are effectively replacing the local government of those islands and using that to reinforce their claims to sovereign control. That’s quite serious and a nightmare for Japan to deal with.”
This time, however, things may be different. Firstly, Japan is demonstrating it will augment its Coast Guard with military forces. Last week, according to the South China Morning Post, Japanese Defense Minister Taro Kono, signaling an escalation of resolve, announced that Japan’s Self-Defense Force would work with the country’s Coast Guard in protecting the Senkaku Islands.
Secondly, this time President Trump is in the White House. On July 31, Newsweek reported, Lt. Gen. Kevin Schneider, commander of U.S. Forces in Japan, stated: “The United States is 100 percent, absolutely steadfast in its commitment to help the government of Japan with the situation in the Senkakus. That is 365 days a year, 24 hours a day, seven days a week.”
The U.S. must back Japan against any threats from China, including from so-called “fishing fleets.” This is not about fishing; this is Gray Zone Warfare. China needs to understand that the U.S. is laying down “red lines” against aggression, no matter what form it takes.