The Sino-Japanese standoff in the East China Sea is now taking the shape of a major geopolitical escalation. Throughout 2020, Chinese vessels were frequently intruding into the Japanese waters near the Senkaku Islands in the East China Sea. But now, Japan is looking to militarise the Senkaku Islands in face of Chinese aggression.
Japanese lawmakers have stepped up the demand for Tokyo to introduce legislation for heightening the defence of Senkaku Islands. This comes in the backdrop of a law giving more extensive powers to China’s quasi-military coast guard that will come into effect from Monday.
Actually, China has expressly permitted its coast guard to fire on foreign vessels in waters under its “jurisdiction”, a move that could see contested waters around the nation become more volatile. Also, the new law allows the Chinese coast guard to forcibly remove vessels. ‘Waters under its jurisdiction’ is an ambiguous terminology from a Chinese perspective. China claims islands and waters far beyond its baseline, and its maritime claims often have no backing in international law.
Now, within Tokyo, it is believed that the new Chinese law is aimed at Japan’s Senkaku Islands, which Beijing claims and calls Diaoyu. In a meeting of Japan’s ruling Liberal Democratic Party’s National Defense Division, lawmakers expressed concern about China’s latest move. One legislator described it as “blatantly threatening.” It was also argued that clauses like forcibly demolishing unapproved structures in waters and islands which China claims is “aimed directly at the Senkakus.”
Also, demands are being made within Japan for stricter measures like enactment of the Territorial Security Act, which would allow Japan’s Self Defence Forces to be dispatched to handle an urgent situation without cabinet approval. Presently, the process of dispatching Self Defence Forces is slow and cumbersome because procuring a cabinet approval consumes a lot of time.
At the same time, Japan’s Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga is trying to compel US President Joe Biden into agreeing that the White House is supposed to protect Japanese sovereignty over Senkaku Islands. On a phone call, Biden and Suga confirmed that their bilateral defence treaty is applicable on the Senkaku Islands.
Article 5 of the US-Japan defence treaty is broadly interpreting as the US treating an attack on the Senkaku Islands as equivalent to an attack on the American soil. Japan is thus ensuring that the Biden administration cannot give up on American obligations to defend Japanese territory. And the ongoing discussions in Tokyo are going to make Biden realise just how high the stakes in the East China Sea are.
China made a suicidal move by vesting extraordinary powers in its coast guard. Now, Japan is likely to respond in a harsh manner and militarise the Senkaku Islands in order to hit back at any act of aggression from China.