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Japan’s defense minister draws red line around disputed islands

Japan’s defense minister draws red line around disputed islands

Japan has expanded its self-defense forces and added state-of-the-art F-35 fighter jets and convert warships into aircraft carriers for them. That is also build new destroyers, submarines and missiles, all the while noticing its military spending still pales in comparison to China’s increased military spending.

“Against Chinese action against the Senkaku Islands and other parts of the East China Sea … we must demonstrate that the Japanese government is resolutely defending our territory with a greater number of Japanese coastguard vessels than China,” Kishi said. “There is no territorial dispute regarding the Senkaku Islands between Japan and other countries,” he added.

Tensions over the uninhabited rock chain – 1,200 miles (1,900 kilometers) southwest of Tokyo, but only a third of this distance from Shanghai – have simmered for years, and claims about them date back centuries.

When tensions rose across the islands in 2012, it triggered a rationale for nationalist sentiment in China. Public protests erupted in dozens of Chinese cities, with Japanese-branded cars smashed, Japanese shops and restaurants vandalized, and rubbish hurled at the Japanese embassy in Beijing.

At the government level, China has been as tight as Kishi in claiming the island chain.

“Diaoyu Island and its associated islands are an inherent part of China’s territory, and it is our inherent right to conduct patrols and law enforcement activities in these waters,” China’s Foreign Ministry said in a statement last year.

China has supported its demands in the region with its ships and by establishing new laws that give the Coast Guard expanded powers.

According to Japanese authorities, Chinese Coast Guard vessels have ventured into Japanese territorial waters, or within 12 nautical miles of Japanese land, a total of 88 times between January 1 and the end of August. While in the contiguous zone, waters between islands but not within 20 miles of the coast, there have been 851 Chinese attacks.

Experts say China’s strategy is to deploy its forces in places in and around disputed areas and exercise Beijing’s law and authority over them. Such an action makes the Chinese claims seem like a good time.

“The exercise of coastal state rights is an important step in affirming sovereignty through practice,” said Alessio Patalano, Professor of War and Strategy at King’s College London.

Kishi has taken note.

China's naval surveillance vessels (front and center) sail with a Japan Coast Guard ship near Kitakojima and Minamikojima in the disputed Senkaku Islands on April 23, 2013.

“There are actions that continue to challenge an integral part of Japan’s sovereign territory. These actions make it a fact,” he said.

The “integrated” Japanese territory extends even closer to another possible hotspot in Japan-China relations.

Taiwan’s significance for Japan

Japan’s westernmost island is at the end of a series of Japanese possessions parallel to the Chinese coast and extends south about 1,125 kilometers from the main island of Kyushu, through the military hub of Okinawa and the holiday island of Ishigaki, to the small island of Yonaguni.

With its 11 square kilometers of stone and population of less than 2,000 people, Yonaguni sits just 110 kilometers from Taiwan, the democratically governed island over which Beijing claims sovereignty.

Taiwan and mainland China have been ruled separately since the end of the civil war more than seven decades ago.

Taiwanese soldiers are seen holding grenade launchers and machine guns and driving tanks during a military exercise in Tainan, Taiwan, on September 14, 2021.

Beijing, however, continues to see Taiwan as an integral part of its territory, even though the Chinese Communist Party has never ruled it.

China has increased its military pressure on Taiwan. In June, it sent over two dozen warplanes near the island, prompting Taiwan to warn its air defenses.

Chinese leader Xi Jinping says Taiwan must be brought under Beijing’s control and has not ruled out the use of force to make it happen.

That, Kishi said, has Tokyo in constant alertness.

When Tokyo published its annual White Paper on Defense in July, it contained its strongest language ever in Taiwan, saying, “stabilizing the situation around Taiwan is important for Japan’s security.”

At the time, Kishi said it should be monitored with “a sense of crisis.”

In his interview with CNN, he gave details.

“What’s happening in Taiwan is directly related to Japan,” he said, noting that the island sits next to its country’s “energy level line.”

“Ninety percent of the energy Japan uses is imported through the areas around Taiwan,” Kishi said.

It is a vulnerability that Tokyo must mitigate.

“What could happen in Taiwan is likely to be a problem for Japan, and in that case Japan will have to take the necessary response to that situation,” Kishi said, stressing that tensions should spread through dialogue, not violence.

But Tokyo does not only use words to back up its claims. It is also sharpening its military defenses, placing missiles and troops on Yonaguni and planning to do the same to the nearby Ishigaki in the near future.

“This is to demonstrate our strong will to defend our southwestern territory of Japanese territory,” Kishi said.

In that regard, Tokyo has an important ally in its corner, the United States.

Tokyo and Washington share a mutual defense treaty, which means the United States is obligated to defend Japanese territory.

US President Joe Biden confirmed this security commitment shortly after his inauguration in January with a statement from the White House specifically mentioning Senkakus.

Kishi said this week that the alliance is being strengthened, and in his commentary on the Senkakus situation, Washington said he had his back from Tokyo.

“We will continue to conduct bilateral training with the United States and multilateral training with other partners to strengthen our posture and contribute to the peace and stability of this region,” he said, noting that naval exercises have been held or planned with partners, including France. , The United Kingdom and Germany.

Japan is preparing partners, but is also improving its own arsenal, including the development and acquisition of weapons systems that can hit areas far beyond Japanese territory.

Without saying what areas these longer-range systems can target, the Japanese defense minister said it was important for the country’s military to have the right equipment to defend it against any threat.

CNN’s Eric Cheung, Emiko Jozuka and Junko Ogura contributed to this report.

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