Diaoyu Islands

China unlikely to use force in Diaoyu Islands, Japanese defence report says

Despite sabre-rattling over islands, Beijing is eager for stability, Japanese report says

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 19 December, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 20 June, 2018, 3:51pm

Beijing may be stepping up patrols by its navy and coastguard vessels in waters close to the disputed Diaoyu Islands, but there is little likelihood that it will use force to take control of the territory, according to the annual China Security Report drawn up by Japan's National Institute for Defence Studies.

The report largely focuses on trying to look beneath the opaque surface of China's military thinking and to provide information on the decision making process in China.

Masayuki Masuda, a senior fellow in the institute's research department, yesterday answered questions about improvements in the Chinese military's capabilities, upgrades in its equipment and whether Beijing would risk an armed clash over the disputed chain of islands.

"From the Chinese perspective, the long-term strategic aim is to effectively end Japanese control of the islands," Masuda said. "So while China is attempting to assert its sovereignty, we believe its greater interest is in stability. And that makes it unlikely that China will opt to use force."

There is little doubt, however, that Beijing is committed to investing more in improving the strength and numbers of its coast guard units, and that would pose an increasing threat to Japan's interests in two or three years, Masuda said.

"The China Marine Surveillance [CMS] comes under the State Oceanic Administration, so they are not a military force and they have no offensive capability," Masuda said. "But we have seen in the last few years an increase in the number of joint exercises with the Chinese navy, so it is clear that they are preparing for warfare scenarios.

"We do not think the CMS would be directly engaged in warfare, but they would provide logistical and other support to the navy."

Shanghai-based naval expert Ni Lexiong said the Chinese navy would be fully prepared for the worst case scenario.

"But it's highly unlikely they'd take the initiative to grab the islets from Japan's control," Ni said.

Xu Guangyu , of the China Arms Control and Disarmament Association, said Beijing's deployment of more ships was to "alter the current situation", referring to Japan's administration of the Diaoyus, which Japan calls the Senkaku Islands.

In the future, that could include more modern vessels such as the newest 3,000-tonne marine surveillance ships, Haijian 137 and Haijian 110, which joined patrols in the East China Sea and Yellow Sea in November.

Masuda referred to the craft as "symbolic" and "designed to put pressure on others". "And if they were armed, then it would be a completely different situation," he added.

The plans for this new class of larger patrol vessel were laid down a decade ago, he pointed out, and China already plans to build 20 more ships in the 1,000-tonne class, to add to the 29 it can already deploy. "I think the Japan coastguard should also be serious about expanding its capabilities," he said. "If we do not, then the balance of power in our respective coastguard units will tilt towards China."