Typhoon Thwarts China's Patrols Around Disputed Senkaku Islands

The Chinese coast guard's daily patrols around the disputed Senkaku Islands have been interrupted for the first time in more than five months thanks to an approaching typhoon.

The white hulls of Beijing's maritime police agency were last seen on Monday and now end a record of 157 consecutive days of activity around the uninhabited island chain, which China claims as Diaoyu and Taiwan as Diaoyutai.

Japan Coast Guard officials said the interruption was likely due to Typhoon In-Fa, Kyodo News reported Wednesday. In-Fa was upgraded from a tropical storm and is expected to sweep through the East China Sea between Wednesday and Thursday.

According to Taiwan's Central Weather Bureau and projections by the U.S. military's Joint Typhoon Warning Center, In-Fa will veer past Taiwan toward coastal China in the coming days.

The storm will pass the Senkaku Islands, which are 100 nautical miles north of Taiwan.

Having sailed in the continuous zone or territorial waters of the Japan-controlled islets every day since February 13, China Coast Guard vessels were last spotted leaving the area at 10 p.m. local time on Monday, said the Japan Coast Guard's 11th regional headquarters in Naha, Okinawa.

The 157-day streak was the longest since 2012, when the Japanese government "nationalized" the islands amid prolonged protests from Beijing and Taipei. The previous record of 111 consecutive days was recorded as China stepped up its "gray-zone" activity near the Senkaku islands last year.

Typhoon Approaches East China Sea
This satellite projection by Taiwan’s Central Weather Bureau on July 21, 2021, shows the approach of Typhoon In-Fa in the Western Pacific. Taiwan Central Weather Bureau

China Coast Guard patrols around the islands are increasing not only in regularity, but in duration, too. On July 12, two Chinese government ships remained in Japanese territorial waters around the islets for a record 47 hours.

Japanese officials have expressed alarm over the coast guard incursions, which are often accompanied by the harassment of fishing boats operating around the island chain.

Tokyo is particularly concerned about China's enactment of a new coast guard law in February, allowing its government vessels to fire upon foreign ships deemed to be trespassing in Chinese waters.

China, meanwhile, insists it patrols around the islands are "legitimate and lawful," and that its new coast guard law is a "routine piece of domestic legislation."

In its annual defense white paper released on July 13, Japan's Defense Minister Nobuo Kishi dedicated an opening paragraph to China's attempts to unilaterally change the status quo in the East and South China seas.

The report included for the first time urgent concerns about Taiwan's security amid growing military tensions in the Taiwan Strait.

On July 5, Deputy Prime Minister Taro Aso made headlines when he said a Chinese attack on Taiwan could pose an "existential threat" to Japan, requiring the collect defense of the island with U.S. forces.

Tokyo's anxieties about its security environment come especially from the economic and military growth of its East Asian neighbor, China. Its efforts to step up security engagement with like-minded allies beyond the U.S. have been more evident since the second term of former Prime Minister Shinzo Abe.

In September, five Japanese ports will host elements of Britain's Queen Elizabeth Carrier Strike Group, which is on a seven-month maiden deployment to the Indo-Pacific. During a visit to Tokyo on Tuesday, U.K. Defense Secretary Ben Wallace confirmed plans to permanently deploy two British warships to Asia.

Royal Navy River-class offshore patrol vessels HMS Spey and HMS Tamar will deploy to the Indo-Pacific at the end of August, the U.K.'s Defense Ministry had announced on Monday.

"As we witness a tilt in power towards the Indo-Pacific region, we are committed to working with our partners here to defend democratic values, tackle shared threats and keep our nations safe," Wallace said in an accompanying statement.

Japan and US Coast Guard Join Exercise
U.S. Coast Guard cutter Kimball and Japan Coast Guard ship Akitsushima conducted exercises near the Ogasawara Islands of Japan on February 21, 2021. Petty Officer 3rd Class Ryan Fisher/U.S. Coast Guard