Since the government nationalized the Senkaku Islands, also claimed by China and Taiwan, in 2012, Chinese vessels have been sailing in the territorial waters surrounding the islands.

An estimated 100 Chinese ships intrude each year into the territorial waters surrounding the Senkaku Islands. | KYODO

Except for the period immediately after the nationalization, an estimated 100 Chinese ships have intruded each year.

Recent flurries of incendiary remarks in the media and on social media toward China’s actions have prompted questions over whether the situation is being reported accurately.

This year, online media outlets have reported on Chinese vessels tracking Japanese ships on three occasions, in May, July, and August.

Usually a Chinese vessel will track a Japanese fishing boat from a distance, according to the Japan Coast Guard (JCG). When the fishing boat moves on from one place to another, the Chinese ship follows.

According to the JCG, Chinese ships tailed Japanese ships four times last year. But due to the lack of seriousness and urgency, the JCG didn’t make public announcements about the movements.

However, when the JCG spotted a Chinese vessel tracking a Japanese ship on the evening of May 8, the coast guard announced it nine hours later, before dawn on May 9.

Behind the announcement came strong instructions from the Prime Minister’s Office and the Foreign Ministry, but the reason was not specified.

“We didn’t plan to announce it publicly. But the Prime Minister’s Emergency Response Headquarters and the Foreign Ministry pushed us to do so,” said a senior coast guard official in Tokyo.

As of the end of August, 66 ships had violated the territorial waters around the Senkakus. Compared to past years, this was not a particularly large number.

However, once the kind of tracking seen up until now is released to the press, it spreads in the blink of an eye through social media, creating the impression that China is suddenly launching an offensive. A hashtag in Japanese that translated as “I protest against Chinese ships intruding on the Senkakus” briefly trended on Twitter.

On 111 days between April 14 and Aug. 8, the longest continuous period ever, Chinese public vessels entered the contiguous zone around the Senkakus, with no sign of backing down.

According to the coast guard, there were only around 40 Chinese maritime patrol boats that weighed 1,000 tons or above in 2012. But there are now about 130 such vessels, the largest of which are in the 10,000-ton class.

“The larger the ship, the better the seaworthiness. Even in high waves, the ship can remain stable,” explained a coast guard source.

“But at the same time, there is a feeling that the media and a portion of the public are exaggerating things. We don’t intend to additionally fan the flames of public opinion by publicly announcing (the tracking),” the source said.

Ukeru Magosaki, a former Foreign Ministry diplomat, says the attention has triggered a hard-line stance in China.

“Before, there was a tacit understanding with China, which claims territorial rights, to shelve the problem,” said Magosaki.

The issues over the Senkakus were supposed to be treated as a diplomatic problem, without applying domestic law, he said. But Japan applying its domestic law heightened tensions, and provided an excuse for China to apply its domestic law as well, he said.

“It is necessary to calmly face the history of the past, understand each other and to connect via dialogue.”

【日本語版】

尖閣の海、続く緊張 漁船衝突から10年 侵入繰り返す中国

 尖閣諸島(沖縄県石垣市)の国有化の流れをつくり、日中関係の緊張を高めた2010年9月の「中国漁船衝突事件」から7日で10年がたった。この間、中国公船による尖閣周辺の領海侵入が繰り返され、石垣市議会は今年6月、尖閣諸島の字名を「登野城尖閣」とする条例を可決。中国側も接続水域内に最長となる約3カ月半滞留するなど緊張が続く。一方、「われわれの海」と呼ぶ地元漁師からは、政治によって好漁場が緊迫化したとの反発もある。

 同事件は、領海侵入した中国漁船が巡視船2隻に衝突。船長を公務執行妨害容疑で逮捕した。那覇地検が起訴への勾留手続きに入ったことから中国側が強く反発。地検は船長を処分保留で釈放したが、11年7月に那覇検察審査会が起訴議決した(12年5月に那覇地裁が公訴棄却)。

 12年9月に日本政府が国有化して以降、中国公船の領海侵入が急増し、13年は1年間で最多の延べ188隻が領海内を航行した。

 これを受け、海上保安庁は16年までに「尖閣領海警備専従体制」の編成を完了。県警は20年4月に国境離島警備隊を新設した。

 衝突事件後、石垣市議会は10年12月に「尖閣諸島開拓の日を定める条例」を可決。今年6月には尖閣諸島の字名を「登野城」から「登野城尖閣」に変更した。