The Japan Coast Guard could directly fire a weapon against foreign vessels aiming to land on the Senkaku Islands in the East China Sea, ruling party members said Thursday, citing government officials.
The government officials told a ruling party panel that they have changed their interpretation of existing laws. China enacted a new law earlier this month that allows its coast guard to use weapons against foreign ships Beijing sees as illegally entering its waters.
Government officials had said earlier Japan's coast guard was only allowed to fire weapons directly at foreign vessels in cases of self-defense and emergency escape.
The officials explained the new interpretation at a meeting of the panel Thursday, saying it is possible for Japan's coast guard to fire against foreign government vessels within the law by regarding vessels aiming to land on the Senkaku Islands as committing violent crimes.
The interpretation is partly based on applying the use of police power under a police law to the coast guard, an LDP member who attended the meeting said, citing the government officials. The interpretation emerged because using force against vessels of foreign countries is considered to run counter to Japan's pacifist Constitution and exclusively defense-oriented policy.
It is the first time government officials have referred to the possibility of the coast guard firing on foreign official vessels aiming to land in Japanese territory, according to the LDP member, Taku Otsuka, who leads the party's National Defense Division that held the meeting.
There are rising concerns in Japan that the country is unable to deal with China's assertiveness around the Japan-controlled, China-claimed Senkaku Islands.
Last year Chinese coast guard vessels entered Japanese territorial waters near the Senkaku Islands around twice a month. Since the law took effect in China earlier this month, the frequency has risen to twice a week, according to the Japan Coast Guard.
After the implementation of the law on Feb. 1, Tokyo expressed "strong concern" over the legislation, which also authorizes the Chinese coast guard to seize foreign ships entering waters claimed by Beijing.
On Thursday, Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga said in a video message at a symposium that the security environment in the Indo-Pacific region had become severe, voicing concerns that "military capability expansion lacking in transparency and unilateral attempts to change the status quo by force or coercion have continued" in the region, although he did not name China.
Suga also said, "I firmly believe that it is 'a free and open order based on the rule of law,' not 'force or coercion,' that will bring peace and prosperity to the region and the world."
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