Japan 'Anxious' About Relentless Intrusions By China Near Disputed Islands

China's state broadcaster says coast guard patrols around contested Japanese islands in the East China Sea are likely to reach record numbers in 2021, following reports from Tokyo of more intrusions this week.

Lawmakers with Japan's ruling Liberal Democratic Party are "anxious" about the frequency of China Coast Guard activity around the Senkaku Islands, a CCTV report said Wednesday.

Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga is expected to hold discussions about a stronger response to the record-setting incursions into Japanese waters.

The latest Chinese coast guard activity occurred Monday when the Japan Coast Guard reported four Chinese government vessels—including one armed with what appeared to be an "autocannon"—sailed into the territorial waters off the Senkakus, which Japan administers under Okinawa Prefecture.

China Surveys Disputed Japan-controlled Islands
This image showing the main islet of the Senkaku group was released by China's Ministry of Natural Resources as part of a landscape survey published on April 26, 2021. China claims the Senkakus as Diaoyu Island, but the uninhabited islets are under Japanese administration. China Ministry of Natural Resources

The uninhabited islets are also claimed by China as Diaoyu, and by Taiwan as Diaoyutai.

According to a report by Tokyo news service Jiji Press, two of the China Coast Guard vessels approached a sole Japanese fishing boat, which was guarded by a Japanese patrol ship. The Japan Coast Guard then "issued warnings for the vessels to leave," the report said.

Monday's activity marked the 16th day this year that China Coast Guard ships had entered Japanese territorial waters around the Senkaku Islands for patrols. They were last present between May 10 and 11.

Beijing's maritime police only confirmed the presence of one vessel, announcing on its website the 5,500-ton Shuoshi II-class cutter numbered 2502.

Japan's Kyodo News, meanwhile, said the fishing boat threatened by the Chinese government vessels weighed 9.1 tons and was manned by a crew of three.

China Coast Guard Patrols Japan-controlled Islands
China Coast Guard vessels. China Coast Guard

China Coast Guard vessels have patrolled the waters in or around the Senkaku Islands for a consecutive 101 days, Japanese government statistics show. The intruding vessels have been detected nearby on 136 days since January 1.

Chinese state broadcaster CCTV said the country's maritime law enforcement agency was likely to break last year's record of 111 consecutive days and 333 total ship days around the disputed islands.

A recent report by Japan's foreign ministry counted no fewer than 36 Chinese ships in the waters off the Senkakus since the start of the year until April 30. However, that figure jumps to 406 Chinese government vessels when counting operations within the island group's contiguous zone—up to 24 nautical miles from land—the report showed.

Beijing's use of its coast guard in the seas around China have gained increased scrutiny since February, when the government enacted a new law allowing maritime police to fire upon foreign vessels in Chinese territory.

Analysts have described the cumulative coast guard activity as part of China's "gray zone" tactics, which it also employs in the South China Sea and against democratic Taiwan.

Beijing is conducting a war of attrition against Tokyo by gradually increasing the frequency of its intrusions in the skies and seas around Japan, researchers say.

China Surveys Disputed Japan-controlled Islands
This satellite image showing the main islet of the Senkaku group was released by China's Ministry of Natural Resources as part of a landscape survey published on April 26, 2021. China claims the Senkakus as Diaoyu Island, but the uninhabited islets are under Japanese administration. China Ministry of Natural Resources

Last month, Beijing reasserted its claims over the Senkakus by releasing a landscape survey covering the main island and two smaller islets. The report by China's Ministry of Natural Resources included detailed satellite imagery and topographical labels in Chinese.

However, in aggressively pursing its claims over the Senkakus Islands, Taiwan and various features in the South China Sea, the Chinese government may have inadvertently elevated the regional disputes and brought them to the attention of the international community.

The United States under the leadership of former President Barack Obama first affirmed in 2014 that Article V of the U.S.-Japan security treaty also covered the Senkaku Islands. This was reaffirmed in 2017 during the Trump administration.

Since taking office this year, the administration of President Joe Biden has maintained the stance, reiterating Washington's opposition to "any unilateral action that seeks to change the status quo or to undermine Japan's administration of these islands."