Japan to Deploy Largest Vessel to Guard Senkaku Islands From China Patrols

Japan will assign one of its largest coast guard vessels to maritime security operations around the disputed Senkaku Islands as Chinese government ships break records for patrols in the area.

According to a report on Thursday by Japanese newspaper Yomiuri Shimbun, the 6,500-ton patrol vessel Asazuki will join the Japanese coast guard's Ishigaki branch, which has jurisdiction over the uninhabited islands in the East China Sea.

Beijing claims the island chain via its claim over Taiwan; it refers to them as the Diaoyu Islands.

Asazuki, which is one of the largest and newest vessels in the coast guard fleet, is undergoing sea trials and could oversee Senkaku operations as early as November, said the Yomiuri Shimbun report.

According to the newspaper, Japan has put down five 6,500-ton patrol ships for its coast guard. They are all of helicopter-carrying classes.

China's coast guard set new records for intrusions into the territorial sea and contiguous zone around the Senkaku Islands last year, but Japanese figures for 2021 so far have made for even more alarming reading.

As of Wednesday, China's white-hull government ships had conducted patrols around the Senkakus on 212 days this year, the newspaper said. Before Typhoon In-Fa halted their progress last month, Beijing's maritime police agency had logged 157 consecutive days of operations around the islands.

In an online notice posted on Thursday, the China coast guard said its vessels had resumed patrols in the territorial seas off Diaoyu.

This year's China coast guard operations around the island chain have involved a fleet of four ships—including one armed with an autocannon—that the authorities in Tokyo say regularly harass and pursue Japanese fishing boats. The ships have been known to split into two groups, one of which anchored in Japanese territorial waters around the main island of Uotsuri for a record 47 hours in July.

The deployment of Asazuki is expected to increase Japan's capacity to respond to China's "gray-zone" operations.

According to a white paper from Japan's Defense Ministry, a total of 1,161 Chinese maritime patrol ships spent 333 days around the Senkaku Islands in 2020, including 111 consecutive days. Analysts say the 333-day record is also likely to be broken before the end of this year.

In a statement last month, the Japanese Embassy in Washington called the intrusions "extremely regrettable."

"We have repeatedly lodged severe protests regarding such activities by China through diplomatic channels," embassy spokesperson Masashi Mizobuchi said.

He added: "The international community has voiced concerns in various ways about China's unilateral attempts to change the status quo by force. We strongly oppose any unilateral actions that could escalate tensions, undermine regional stability and disrupt the international rules-based order.

"Japan does not intend to change its stance of responding firmly, but in a calm manner, to resolutely defend our territorial land, sea and airspace."

Japan Patrol Ship to Guard Senkaku Islands
File photo of a Japanese P-3C patrol plane flying over islets in the East China Sea on October 13, 2011. The island chain is known as Senkaku in Japan and Diaoyu in China. JAPAN POOL/AFP via Getty Images