jic logo

Japan’s Territories and Maritime Issues Update

No.1, September 3, 2018

Japan Maritime Territory Updates is a bimonthly review of news, policy reports, and analysis concerning Japanese territories and maritime issues.

By Eri Masaki and Risa Sasaki

The Senkaku Islands and East China Sea

On June 29, China deployed a new semi-submersible drilling vessel for gas field development in the East China Sea. At a press conference, Japanese Foreign Minister Taro Kono stated that the Japanese government had lodged a serious protest with the Chinese government in response to a question asked by a reporter. At the press conference, FM Kono responded that “engaging in these kinds of actions before the international maritime boundary line has been finalized is not a positive thing for friendship and goodwill between the two countries”.

On June 29, the Ministry of Defense announced that a Chinese Navy hospital vessel had sailed inside the contiguous zone of the Senkaku Islands. It was the third time that Chinese navy vessels had entered the contiguous zone of the islands.

On July 1, China placed its coast guard under the command of the People’s Armed Police. On July 2, Nikkei indicated that this move might blur the boundaries between the activities of the China Coast Guard and military operations. On June 26, Japanese Defense Minister Itsunori Onodera referred to the move in a press conference saying that Japan is “paying close attention to this organizational restructuring” and “will continue to work with the relevant ministries and agencies, including the Japan Coast Guard, to ensure that Japan takes all possible measures with regard to surveillance and intelligence gathering”, Meanwhile, on June 28, Senior Colonel Wu Qian, Director General of the Information Office of China's Ministry of National Defense (MND) and Spokesperson for the MND told reporters at a monthly press conference that this decision will not “entail any change on the Chinese side in its principles and polices on maritime issues”.

On July 4, three China Coast Guard vessels intruded into the territorial waters around the Senkaku Islands for the first time since the Coast Guard was placed under the command of the armed police. At a press conference in Tokyo on July 4, Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga emphasized that the Senkaku Islands are historically part of Japan's inherent territory in terms of history and international law, and that Japan will act calmly and resolutely to protect Japanese territory. Suga told reporters that the Japanese government had complained to the Chinese government through diplomatic channels.

After the intrusion on July 4, China Coast Guard vessels entered the territorial waters around the Senkaku Islands on July 29, August 7 and August 24, bringing the total of such incursions to 16 since the beginning of this year. From July 4, the China Coast Guard started to post in Weibo every time its vessels entered Japanese territorial waters.

On July 18, Yoshitaka Nakayama, Mayor of Ishigaki City, announced that the city would accept the deployment of Ground Self Defense Forces.

On August 16, the U.S. Department of Defense issued its Annual Report on Military and Security Developments Involving the People’s Republic of China. With respect to the Senkaku Islands, it reported that “during 2017, China maintained a presence in the Senkaku Islands usually with 4 CCG ships, and entered within 12 nm of the islands an average of once every 10 days with multiple CCG ships.”


On July 10, according to Korean Sport and Olympic Committee President Lee Kee-heung, South and North Korea requested the Olympic Council of Asia to allow the use of a unification flag showing Takeshima during the 18th Asian Games in Jakarta. On August 7, Yonhap News Agency reported that the Olympic Council of Asia did not accept the request by the two Koreas because it needs to follow the decision of the International Olympic Committee not to approve the use of the unified flag with Takeshima's image at the previous PyeongChang Olympic Games.

A special exhibition on Sekisui Nagakubo, a Japanese geographer in the Edo period, was held at the National Museum of Territory and Sovereignty in Tokyo from July 2. Nagakubo was one of the first Japanese geographers who drew Takeshima in Japanese maps. At the opening ceremony, Teru Fukui, Minister of State for Okinawa and Northern Territories Affairs, stated that those historical materials demonstrate that Japanese people have considered Takeshima a part of Japan’s territory since the Edo period.

On July 20, the Japanese government issued a report that collected materials on Takeshima. This report has been published annually since 2014. This time it focused on official documents from other countries such as the United Kingdom and the United States, in particular those related to the drafting of the San Francisco Peace Treaty, as these materials reflect the views of the US and UK governments at that time. For instance, the report introduces a letter sent by a British embassy official in Japan to London recording an incident involving a Japanese patrol boat shot by the Korean side near Takeshima in 1953. The letter notes that "Takeshima unmistakably forms part of Japanese territory" (see page 36-37 of the report).

On August 3, the Sankei Shimbun reported that there is a possibility that a Korean survey vessel had conducted maritime survey activities in the territorial waters around Takeshima on August 1 and 2. Under the UNCLOS, foreign countries are not allowed to conduct research or survey activities without the agreement of the coastal states. Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga stated that the Japanese government had asked the Korean government to provide an explanation for the activities of the ship through diplomatic channels.

The Northern Territories

On July 18, the Japanese parliament adopted amendments to the Act on Special Measures concerning Advancement of Resolution of Northern Territories Issues, etc. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Russian Federation claimed that the adopted amendments contradicted the high-level agreements on the joint economic activities in the Northern Territories and put obstacles in the way of creating an atmosphere of trust and cooperation between the two nations. Deputy Chief Cabinet Secretary Kotaro Nogami said with regard to Russia's statement that the amendments to Act do not directly relate to negotiations of the Joint economic activities between Japan and Russia. He put stress on Japanese policies to explain the purpose and content of the amendments to the Russian side, and affirmed that Japan would consult with Russia at various levels to pursue the early realization of the Joint economic activities.

On July 22, Russian authorities “confiscated” satellite mobile phones from the Japanese government officials and media representatives who had accompanied the former island residents flying to the Northern Islands to visit graves. The grave visit by airplane was the second since last September. Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and President Vladimir Putin agreed at the summit meeting in April 2017 to realize a special grave visit by airplane. Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga stated at a press conference on July 23 that the “confiscation” of the mobile phones was regrettable and said that Japanese lodged a protest with Russia, through diplomatic channels, telling that such an act is unacceptable in light of Japan’s legal stance on the Northern Territories.

On July 31, Japanese Foreign Minister Taro Kono and Defense Minister Itsunori Onodeara held a Japan-Russia Foreign and Defense Ministerial Consultation (“2+2” Ministerial Meeting) with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Viktorovich Lavrov and Defense Minister Sergey Shoygu. In the meeting, FM Kono and DM Onodera stated that the expansion of military deployment in the Northern Territories by Russia is regrettable and unacceptable in light of Japan’s position on the islands.

On August 3, Sakhalin.info, a local media outlet in Sakhalin, reported that Russian Su-35s fighter jets had been provisionally deployed on Etorofu Island. On August 6, Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga stated that the Japanese government had lodged a protest with the Russian government through diplomatic channels.

Other news

On July 17, the Japanese Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology issued a new Course of Study for high school, which was announced in March. According to the Course of Study for geology and history classes, Japanese students will learn that the Northern Territories, Takeshima and the Senkaku Islands are inherent parts of Japanese territory. In response to this move, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of South Korea issued a statement and summoned Kohei Maruyama, a minister at the Japanese Embassy in Seoul, to demand the immediate withdrawal of the plan. On July 18, at a daily press conference, China’s Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Hua Chunying urged “the Japanese side to face up to the history and the reality, and educate its younger generations with a correct way of understanding history.”

Policy reports and analysis

On June 27, the Nakasone Yasuhiro Peace Institute (NPI) issued a policy report that proposed to enhance Japan’s capabilities to deal with gray-zone challenges in its airspace and territorial waters. The authors of the paper suggested various options for Japan’s national defense strategy to cope with the growing concern of gray-zone situations that calls for specific steps and actions by the Japan Coast Guard (JCG) and Self-Defense Forces (SDF) to develop their capabilities to address gray-zone contingencies, including collaboration between JCG and SDF units.

On July 24, the Research Institute for Peace and Security announced policy recommendations on security and defense strategy. The report was made for the purpose of contributing to the formation of the new National Defense Program Guideline and the review of the current National Security Strategy, which was adopted in 2013. It proposes that the new national security strategy be drafted based on the recognition that Japan’s security environment is becoming increasingly severe. The report also recommended that the Japanese Coast Guard dramatically enhance its capabilities to patrol around the Senkaku Islands. It also proposed that, for the purpose of the defense of the Nansei Islands, the Ground, Maritime, and Air Self-Defense Forces should enhance their joint operation capabilities and establish foundations for the defense of remote islands.

On August 28, the Japanese Ministry of Defense issued its annual white paper (Japanese:http://www.mod.go.jp/j/publication/wp/wp2018/pdf/H30_MDF_whitepaper_1.pdf./ English summary: http://www.mod.go.jp/e/publ/w_paper/pdf/2018/DOJ2018_Digest_0827.pdf). With respect to the activities of PLA Navy and Air Force, it pointed out that ” China’s sea and air power is expanding its operational areas, including the area around Senkaku Islands, undertaking further activities which are seemingly based on its own claim regarding the islands.” As for CCG activities, it noted that larger vessels tended to be dispatched to the area around the Senkaku Islands in recent years and that the CCG’s operational capabilities have been improving. The white paper also pointed out that “Russia announced deployment of surface-to-ship missiles in the Northern Territories (Etorofu and Kunashiri islands), and it is also intensifying activities in Etorofu island, including designation of a civilian airport to both civilian and military use and deployment of fighters.”

Newsletter Opt-out:

Dear Readers,
We will provide updates on our events and activities to subscribers from our website and people with whom we have become acquainted in meetings or event so far via this newsletter. If you no longer wish to receive Japan Information Center at JIIA newsletters, please click the following link or visit our website to cancel your subscription. [Unsubscribe]

The Japan Information Center at JIIA
(C) The Japan Institute of International Affairs (https://www2.jiia.or.jp/en/)