Japan is preparing long-term responses to Chinese provocations that challenge its administrative control of the Senkaku Islands.
Chinese planes and ships have been constantly present around the isles, known as Diaoyu in China, since Japan bought three of the five islands on Sept. 11. The purchase brought its total to four.
Some Chinese ships and planes have entered Japan’s airspace and waters, showing the increasing pressure China is putting on Japan to recognize that a territorial dispute over the islands exists. Tokyo has refused to admit this for decades.
Japan spotted one or more Chinese ships in its territorial waters around the islands or surrounding contiguous zone on 92 days last year, over eight times the previous year’s level, according to the Japan Coast Guard’s 11th regional headquarters in Naha, Okinawa Prefecture.
In recent days, a flotilla of four vessels led by a large 3,000-ton-class ship has been spotted.
Between the mornings of Jan. 7 and Jan. 8, four such ships were spotted loitering in Japanese waters for as long as 13 hours.
Seeing the need for long-term surveillance, the Japan Coast Guard plans to form a special patrol unit for the Senkakus comprising 12 ships. The unit won’t be established until April 2015, at the earliest, and outlays for six of the ships will be sought from the fiscal 2012 extra budget.
The Haijian 83 attracted particular attention from Japanese and U.S. officials when it entered Japanese waters on Dec. 31.
The 3,000-ton-class vessel was one of the Chinese government ships in the South China Sea in 2009 when Chinese trawlers believed to be carrying paramilitaries obstructed the operations of a U.S. Navy acoustic research vessel. At the time, the Haijian 83 was thought to have been monitoring and trying to put coercive pressure on the U.S. ship.
“We cannot rule out the possibility that China may use paramilitaries and trawlers to block the operations of Japan Coast Guard ships,” a Japanese official said.
On Jan. 5, China’s State Oceanic Administration sent a Y-12 propeller plane into the air defense ID zone near the Senkakus, causing Japan to scramble fighter jets.
It was the sixth time fighters have been scrambled since Japan’s airspace was first breached by a Chinese plane on Dec. 13.
“There is a strong danger of accidental contact developing into a contingency situation,” a senior Japanese official warned.
The Chinese coast is 330 km from Uotsuri, the largest of the five Senkaku islets, a distance that China’s Jian-10 fighter jets are reportedly capable of covering in about 10 minutes.
In a recent editorial, the Global Times, the English-language version of a daily affiliated with the People’s Daily, warned that a confrontation between Chinese and Japanese jets will happen if Japan keeps blocking patrols by Chinese planes.
The Defense Ministry is considering procuring Global Hawk surveillance planes for deployment to the East China Sea because a key radar facility on Miyako Island in Okinawa Prefecture cannot detect Chinese aircraft flying at very low altitudes.