Japan files diplomatic protest over Chinese ships near disputed Diaoyu Islands
- Chinese coastguard vessels have been operating near the islands, known as the Senkaku in Japan, for 65 consecutive days
- Tokyo said it will respond ‘firmly and calmly’, as analysts point out the showdown in the East China Sea is being replicated elsewhere in the region
This is the longest period since September 2012, when Beijing and Tokyo were at loggerheads over the question of sovereignty after the Japanese government bought some of the islands from the Japanese family that owned them.
Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga declined to comment on what the Chinese ships might be doing in waters around the islands.
“The Senkaku Islands are under our control and are unquestionably our territory, historically and under international law. We believe it is extremely serious that these activities continue,” he told a press conference. “We will respond firmly and calmly to the Chinese side.”
“Beijing is constantly trying to probe and find opportunities to exploit Japanese weaknesses around the islands as part of its longer-term strategy,” said Stephen Nagy, an associate professor of international relations at Tokyo’s International Christian University.
The aim, he said, is to enter the disputed waters to demonstrate to the international community that Japan’s claim is weak because it cannot exercise administrative control over the area – a strategy dubbed “lawfare”.
Yoichi Shimada, a professor of international relations at Fukui Prefectural University, agreed that China has long-term ambitions over the Diaoyu Islands and other territories that it presently appears to be simply helping itself to.
“With the Senkakus, Beijing has been waging a 100-year battle intended to show the world that the islands are administered by China and I would say that any Japanese politician who said now that they could halt that ambition is dreaming,” he said.
The problem, Shimada conceded, is that US President Donald Trump has shown himself to be “reluctant to help other countries, even America’s allies”.
“I am afraid that China might misunderstand Washington’s position and conclude that this US administration will not help Japan resist Chinese moves against the Senkakus,” Shimada said. “The US-Japan security pact is in place, but there are no guarantees that the US will honour it.”