jic logo

Japan’s Territories and Maritime Issues Update

No.2, November 6, 2018

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

By Eri Masaki and Risa Sasaki

Destroyer Kaga (Photo: Kyodo News)

1. The Northern Territories

On September 3, at a press conference, Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga was asked a question on reports that Russia had held WWII commemoration ceremonies in the Northern Territories and missiles were exhibited at the events. He stated that Russia’s military expansion in the Northern Territories is inconsistent with Japan’s position and that Japan has lodged protests with the Russian government at various opportunities. The Chief Cabinet Secretary also pointed out that, in order to solve the issues including military expansion in the Northern Territories, Japan and Russia need to resolve the territorial issue itself. He also stated that Japan and Russia should seek to resolve the territorial issue and then conclude a peace treaty on the basis of a future-oriented approach that would be acceptable to both sides.

Between September 10 and 13, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe visited Vladivostok to participate in the Fourth Eastern Economic Forum. During the Japan-Russia Summit Meeting on September 10, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and President Vladimir Putin, discussed joint economic activities on the Four Northern Islands, and approved a “road map” for implementing five candidate projects.

According to a press release issued by the Japanese Foreign ministry, the“key pillars” of the roadmap are as follows:

i. The propagation and aquaculture of marine products: Cover a plural number of marine species including sea urchins, and also continue discussions on marine species other than sea urchins.

ii. Greenhouse vegetable cultivation: Specify the varieties of strawberries and the locations where the project will be implemented.

iii. Development of tours based on the islands’ features: Formulate package tours.

iv. Introduction of wind-power generation: Confirm the locations for wind condition studies.

v. Garbage volume reduction measures: Confirm locations where garbage volume reduction pilot projects will be implemented.

The two leaders also shared the view that a “business mission”should be dispatched in early October, and expressed their appreciation for the efforts made to arrange a second grave visit of the former residents by airplane in July for the second straight year. Prime Minister Abe encouraged President Putin for further cooperation and improvement of humanitarian measures for the former residents of the islands.

Prime Minister Abe, in his speech at the Eastern Economic Forum on September 12, noted that the fact Japan and Russia have yet to conclude a peace treaty is an obstacle hindering bilateral relations from reaching their full potential. The Prime Minister also stated that “When a lasting stability comes to take hold between Japan and Russia,” we will see “the arrival on the world stage of a huge region brimming with peace, prosperity, and dynamism, governed by free and fair rules”. He also said, “we have the duty to completely clear away from Northeast Asia the postwar scenes and change the future to one truly filled with hope.”

Russian President Putin suggested at the Eastern Economic Forum on September 12 that Moscow and Tokyo should make a peace treaty without any preconditions by the end of the year. On September 13, Chief Cabinet Secretary Suga told reporters in Tokyo that, “it is our country's basic position that we conclude a peace treaty through the resolution of the issue of the attribution of the Four Northern Islands and the Russian side understands this.” On September 20, in a TV program broadcast by NHK, Prime Minister Abe also stated that Japan maintains the principle of resolving the territorial issue first and then concluding a peace treaty.

On September 25, Prime Minister Abe, in his speech at the United Nations General Assembly, touched upon the Northern Territories issue in the context of expressing his determination to “clear the long-standing postwar structure from Northeast Asia.” The Prime Minister stated that “we must resolve the territorial issue that lies between Japan and Russia and conclude a peace treaty between our two countries. Once a Japan-Russia peace treaty comes into existence, the peace and prosperity of East Asia will attain a firmer foundation.”

On September 28, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Japan announced that a “business mission”on the Joint economic activities on the Four Northern Islands would be sent from October 1 to October 5. The delegation’s departure from Nemuro was postponed until October 2 due to inclement weather conditions.

On October 9, the Russian government had notified the Japanese government that Russia would conduct a firing drill in waters near the Northern Territories from October 10 to October 13. Chief Cabinet Secretary Suga told reporters on October 10 that the Japanese government had lodged a protest with the Russian government, stating that the exercises could lead to Russian military build-up on the Four Northern Islands and that the planned military drills are incompatible with Japan's position. On October 11 and 16, the Russian government notified the Japanese government again that it would be conducting firing drills around the Northern Territories, and the Japanese government lodged further protests. On October 15, Chief Cabinet Secretary Suga stated at a press conference that, “in the view of solving this issue fundamentally, we need to resolve the territorial issue with Russia as such.”

2. Takeshima

According to a report released by the National Oceanographic Research Institute in Korea on September 10, the institute had conducted oceanographic research by using Autonomous Ocean Vehicles (AOV) in Japan's territorial waters and exclusive economic zones (EEZ) around Takeshima from March to November 2017.

On September 14, Chief Cabinet Secretary Suga stated at a press conference that " we have made a serious protest to the Korean government every time we became aware of related facts. Any oceanographic research in Japan's territorial waters or EEZ without prior consent is unacceptable. We have emphasized this to the Korean government.” He also mentioned that a protest had already been lodged through diplomatic channels on November 28 last year regarding the oceanographic research conducted by Korea that year.

On October 10, members of the National Assembly of Korea expressed their intention to land on Takeshima on October 22. On October 12, Minister of State for Okinawa and Northern Territories Affairs Mitsuhiro Miyakoshi stated that “Takeshima is, historically and under international law, a part of Japan’s inherent territory. The plan to land on Takeshima is utterly unacceptable and deeply regrettable. We have already lodged a protest through diplomatic channels and urged that the plan be cancelled.” On October 22, after a group of Korean parliamentary members actually landed on Takeshima, Chief Cabinet Secretary Suga stated at a press conference that “in terms of our stance on Takeshima, the landing is completely unacceptable. The fact that they pressed forward with the plan to land on the island in spite of the complaint the Japanese government filed beforehand is deeply regrettable. As soon as the landing took place, the Japanese government immediately lodged a protest again and urged the Korean government to prevent the recurrence of such an incident.”

3. The Senkaku Islands and East China Sea

On September 11, Prime Minister Abe, during his visit to Vladivostok to attend the Eastern Economic Forum, held a Japan-China Summit Meeting with President Xi Jinping. During the meeting, Prime Minister Abe emphasized Japan’s position that there would be no genuine improvement in Japan-China relations without stability in the East China Sea The two leaders shared the view that they would continue to make efforts together to make the East China Sea a “Sea of Peace, Cooperation, and Friendship.”

On September 14, Minister of State for Okinawa and Northern Territories Affairs Teru Fukui announced that the Japanese government had issued a research report on the Senkaku Islands based on materials that had been collected since the release of last year’s report. The report, which has been published annually since 2014, gathered materials constituting the basis of Japan's possession of Senkaku Islands. This year’s report publicized materials that show Okinawa Prefecture, at its own initiative, took measures to manage administrative matters in relation to the islands even before 1895, when the Japanese cabinet officially decided to incorporate them into Japanese territory. The measure was taken because Okinawa Prefecture was aware of landings and economic activities by Japanese fishermen and others at that time. For instance, in 1891, Okinawa Governor Kanji Maruoka instructed the Yaeyama local office and police station to provisionally incorporate the islands within their jurisdiction.

On October 2, the Sankei Shimbun reported that China had installed a new maritime buoy within Japan's exclusive economic zones around the Senkaku Islands this year. On October 3, Chief Cabinet Secretary Suga told reporters that “as the existence of the buoy on the Japanese side of the geographical middle line in the East China Sea has been confirmed, we have lodged a protest with the Chinese government through diplomatic channels under the consideration that the installment may be inconsistent with the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea.”

On October 4, US Vice President Michael Pence delivered a speech on the Trump administration’s policies on China. He stated that “China wants nothing less than to push the United States of America from the Western Pacific and attempt to prevent us from coming to the aid of our allies. But they will fail.” He also stated that “Beijing is also using its power like never before,” and by way of example, he pointed out “Chinese ships routinely patrol around the Senkaku Islands, which are administered by Japan.”

On October 17, four China Coast Guard vessels entered Japanese territorial waters around the Senkaku Islands. It was the first time since September 7, bringing the total of such incursions to 18 since the beginning of this year. On the same day, at a press conference, Chief Cabinet Secretary Suga stated that “as the Senkaku Islands are undoubtedly part of Japan’s inherent territory in terms of history and international law, the intrusion by the CCG vessels into our territorial waters is deeply regrettable and unacceptable. We have lodged a protest with the Chinese government through diplomatic channels and strongly urged the vessels to exit from Japanese territorial waters.”

On October 19, Defense Minister Takeshi Iwaya met Chinese Defense Minister Wei Fenghe. After the meeting, Defense Minister Iwaya stated, at a press availability, that “on the Maritime and Air Communication Mechanism between Japanese and Chinese defense authorities that started in June,” the two ministers “shared the recognition that it is important to manage the mechanism in a manner that contributes to fostering trust between Japanese and Chinese defense authorities and agreed on early establishment of a hotline.” With respect to the East China Sea and South China Sea, Defense Minister Iwaya said that he had “cited evidence of attempts to unilaterally change the status quo” in the meeting.

Between October 25 and 27, Prime Minister Abe visited Beijing. This was the first visit to China by a Japanese prime minister since that by Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda seven years ago, except for visits with the purpose of attending multilateral conferences.

At the meeting with Premier Li Keqiang, with respect to maritime and security issues, Prime Minister Abe reemphasized Japan’s position that there would be no genuine improvement in Japan-China relations without stability in the East China Sea. The two leaders shared the view that concrete progress on maritime and security issues would be necessary for building constructive relations between the two countries. In this regard, they agreed that the first annual meeting of the Maritime and Aerial Communication Mechanism between Japanese and Chinese defense authorities, which was agreed on last May, should be held by the end of this year. They also welcomed the signing of the Japan-China Search and Rescue Agreement. In addition, they agreed that the two governments should pursue defense exchanges and dialogues, including reciprocal visits of defense ministers, as well as exchanges between maritime law enforcement agencies. With regard to the “2008 agreement” on the issue of resource development in the East China Sea, the two leaders reaffirmed their complete adherence to the Agreement regarding the development of resources in the East China Sea, and shared the view that they will further increase communication with the aim for an early resumption of negotiations to implement the agreement.

At the meeting with President Xi Jinping, Prime Minister Abe reemphasized Japan’s position on the issues involving the East China Sea and urged improvement of the situation in the area. The two leaders shared the view that the two governments should continue to enhance communication and make efforts to prevent unintended contingencies.

4. The South China Sea

On September 11, Foreign Minister Taro Kono, in an interview with a Vietnamese newspaper, expressed the view that “the rules-based, free and open maritime order is a foundation that brings stability and prosperity to the international community.” To promote the “Free and Open Indo-Pacific Strategy”, he suggested (1) seeking to promote freedom of navigation, free trade and the rule of law,(2) strengthening connectivity through the development of high quality infrastructure,and (3) cooperating for peace and stability in such areas as capacity building in maritime law enforcement, disaster relief, and non-proliferation. With regard to the South China Sea, he pointed out that “we see unilateral actions that change the status quo and increase tensions such as large-scale, rapid land reclamation and the building of outposts as well as their use for military purposes.” He also stated that, from the perspective of the rule of law, “Japan will continue to appeal to all relevant parties the importance of making efforts towards peaceful solutions of disputes based on international law.”

On September 18, the Ministry of Defense announced that the destroyers Kaga, Inazuma, and Suzutsuki had joined the submarine Kuroshio, which was heading to Vietnam on a goodwill visit, and conducted an antisubmarine warfare exercise in the South China Sea on September 13. “Exercises conducted by the Self-Defense Forces (SDF), including this exercise, ultimately aim to improve the tactical skills of the SDF; they are not conducted with any particular country in mind,” Minister of Defense Itsunori Onodera said. He also indicated “Exercises involving submarines in the South China Sea have been conducted several times since more than 15 years ago, and were also conducted last year and the year before last.”

On October 10, the Eighth Japan-Australia 2+2 Foreign and Defense Ministerial Consultations were held in Sydney. In a joint statement, the Japanese and Australian Foreign and Defense Ministers “remained seriously concerned about the situation in the South China Sea (SCS)” and “expressed their opposition to the use of disputed features for military purposes, urging all parties to pursue the demilitarization of such features.” They also reaffirmed “the importance of upholding the rules-based regional and international order, respect for international law, freedom of navigation and overflight and unimpeded trade.” With regard to the East China Sea, they “expressed opposition to any coercive unilateral actions that seek to alter the status quo or increase tensions in the area.”

5. Others

On October 29, Prime Minister Abe had an unofficial luncheon meeting and a summit meeting with Indian Prime Minister Shri Narendra Modi, who was visiting Japan between October 28 and 29. After the meetings, the two leaders issued the Japan-India Vision Statement. In the statement,“Prime Minister Modi recognised that the Japan-India relationship has been transformed into a partnership with great substance and purpose and is a corner stone of India’s Act East Policy. Prime Minster Abe underscored the basic importance of Japan-India relationship for the regional order and is determined to advancing the “new era in Japan-India relations” so as to further cooperate for peace, stability and prosperity of Indo-Pacific. Based on their shared vision, the two Prime Ministers reiterated their unwavering commitment to working together towards a free and open Indo-Pacific.”

6. Policy Reports and Analysis

On October 10, the Japan Institute of International Affairs issued a policy report titled “A New Security Strategy in the Era of a Wavering International Order.” The report consisted of general recommendations by a JIIA research group and specific recommendations on important security issues by individual members of the group. The report was made for the purpose of contributing to the formation of the new National Defense Program Guidelines and the review of the current National Security Strategy, which was adopted in 2013. It recommends that “in a situation where the United States is engaged in strategic competition with China, Japan needs to take a realistic response to the expansion of China’s power and its attempts to alter the status quo. In this regard, Japan should take a cost-imposition strategy that would raise the cost of status-quo- altering behavior and upgrades to its A2/AD capabilities. At the same time, Japan should promote confidence-building measures with China and enhance crisis management capabilities so that a difference of opinions on individual issues such as territory and history would not deteriorate Japan-China relations as a whole.”

Concerning the “imposition of costs on China,”it recommended that Japan should enhance its A2/AD capabilities, including anti-air, anti-ship and anti-submarine warfare capabilities, in order to raise the costs of changing the status quo. It also suggested that the Japanese Coast Guard enhance its policing capabilities so that security in the Japanese waters can be maintained in accordance with the Japanese laws and regulations, In addition, it recommended that the Japanese government develop a cooperative framework to adequately tackle “gray zone”situations and hybrid warfare in armed attack situations.

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/)