Japan has expressed alarm over China’s new law that allows the China Coast Guard to use force against foreign parties for what Beijing views as violations of its sovereignty and jurisdiction.
The new law, which entered into force Monday, “could shake the order based on international law,” a Defense Ministry executive warns.
Tokyo is braced for possible Chinese military actions in the East China Sea, where tensions are running high over the Japanese-administered Senkaku Islands, claimed by Beijing.
Some in the ruling Liberal Democratic Party say that the Self-Defense Forces should play a bigger role in dealing with the situation.
A U.S. Defense Department report last year described the China Goast Guard, often called the country’s second navy, as “by far the largest coast guard force in the world.”
Beijing put the coast guard under the command of the Communist Party of China’s Central Military Commission, the top leadership body for the country’s military, in 2018.
The new law allows the coast guard to take all necessary measures, including the use of weapons, against foreign organizations or individuals that violate Chinese sovereignty or jurisdiction.
By contrast, the Japan Coast Guard is bound by strict restrictions on the use of weapons under the law, which clearly bans it from military activities.
Coast guard ships from China have repeatedly intruded into Japanese waters around the Senkaku Islands.
Last year, Japan spotted Chinese coast guard and other government vessels inside the contiguous zone surrounding the territorial waters around the islets on 333 seperate days, a record number.
Usually, Japan Coast Guard patrol vessels deal with such ships from China. But if Chinese ships become aggressive, SDF vessels may be dispatched to conduct security operations.
At an LDP meeting last week, lawmakers attacked the new Chinese law. One warned, “China is taking aim at the Senkaku Islands,” while another said, “China’s move is nothing less than a threat.”
Participants proposed writing legislation to make it easier for the SDF to play a bigger role, considering that the China Coast Guard and the military work in close coordination.
On Friday, the government held a meeting of the National Security Council to discuss the regional situation.
China “must not apply the law in a way that goes against international law,” Foreign Minister Toshimitsu Motegi told a news conference the same day.
In the East China Sea, it has become a common occurrence for Maritime Self-Defense Force and Chinese naval vessels to face off against each other.
Any increase in SDF activities there could give China an excuse to dispatch more naval vessels. “We’d fall into a trap set by China,” a senior Defense Ministry official said.
At a news conference Friday, Defense Minister Nobuo Kishi only said, “We’ll make thorough preparations while hearing the LDP’s opinions.”
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