Use fisheries patrols to tighten grip on Diaoyus, official says

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 07 December, 2010, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 07 December, 2010, 12:00am

Patrols around the disputed Diaoyu Islands should be stepped up to the frequency of those in the Gulf of Aden, an official argued in an opinion piece yesterday.

Huang Zuoping, vice-director at the executive office of the Ministry of Agriculture's South China Sea Fishery Bureau, said the 'soft power' of regular fisheries patrols, coupled with an increase in Chinese trawling fleets, could be more effective than a military response.

'Deploying patrol ships ... proves clearly that the Diaoyu Islands are part of China, because fisheries patrols are part of the legal enforcement of economic management of the domestic fishing industry,' he wrote. 'This is more practical and realistic than issuing any declaration.'

Huang argued that fisheries patrols around the islands should be seen as strategically equivalent to protecting a major shipping channel.

'From the point of view of national sovereignty and ocean rights, the importance of normalised protection of fishing around the Diaoyu Islands is certainly no less than that of protecting shipping in the Gulf of Aden, and [China] should have a comparable deployment,' he wrote.

The disputed chain of islands - known as Senkaku in Japan - is one of the key potential flashpoints in the region, and the issue has placed a serious strain on Sino-Japanese relations in recent months. Tensions flared in September after a Chinese fishing boat collided with a Japanese coastguard vessel off the islands.

Chinese fisheries vessels have been running regular patrols around the islands in response to the clash, and the fisheries administration last month unveiled plans to increase its fleet by building larger patrol ships.

Japanese officials announced last month that Tokyo was considering stationing troops on islands close to China to defend its territories in the East China Sea region.

Professor Jin Canrong, deputy dean at Renmin University's School of International Studies, said it would be wrong to view Huang's comments as signifying a policy shift.

'This is just one person's opinion,' Jin said. 'China today is just like America. Many people have different opinions about policy directions.'

He said many departments were making policies on the issue and Huang's ranking was not that high.

Jiang Lifeng, a research fellow at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences' Institute of Japanese Studies, said sending fisheries ships to patrol the islands was a 'reasonable, legal response' to the issue.

'The purpose of the patrols is to protect China's sovereign rights and to protect the safety of fishing vessels,' he said. 'Whether China sends one, two or five ships to patrol the Diaoyu Islands is a decision that will be made according to the situation.'