The two 2004 incidents and Japan’s reactions in relation to China

Two incidents in 2004 gradually justified Japan’s defense preparation toward China in domestic politics. One was the 2004 Chinese landing on the Senkaku/Diaoyu islands. The Senkaku/Diaoyu islands were a territorial issue between the two countries from the end of the 1970s. They are barren and uninhabited islands, but their economic value can be found in their rich fish stocks, the supposed natural resources around them and their strategic value in their proximity to important sea lanes.52 While both countries have assertedtheir sovereignty over the islands, postwar Japan has maintained de facto administration of the islands since 1972 and has refused to acknowledge the existence of the dispute itself.53 The islands have been under Japan's Air Defense Identification Zone (ADIZ) that the Japan Air Self-Defense Force (JASDF) declared after the U.S. reversion of Okinawa to Japan.54 This situation has justified Japan’s official explanation that ‘(t)here exists no issue of territorial sovereignty to be resolved concerning the Senkaku Islands,’ and that they ‘historically and legally’ belong to Japan.55 On the other hand, China began to claim sovereignty after a report was released in the late 1960s when oil was found in seabeds around the islands.56 It asserts that the Senkaku/Diaoyu islands historically belonged to China, and they were lost to Japan during the Sino-Japanese War (1894-95). Its 1992 Law of the Territorial Sea and the Contiguous Zone included the Senkaku/Diaoyu Islands in its territory.

Waters around the south-west island chain are strategically important for China’s naval expansion, but the Senkaku/Diaoyu islands issue did not necessarily dominate Japan-China security relations before the 2000s. Because China’s naval activities were rather limited, Japan did not adopt specific defense measures for the islands. The politicization of that issue was cautiously limited by both sides to maintain a good Japan-China relationship. In 1978, then-Chinese vice-President Deng Xiaoping suggested shelving the dispute for future generations.57 Despite Japan’s official position on its sovereignty, the SDF was neither stationed on the islands nor deployed in the territorial sea and the contiguous zone. Moreover, there were no Japanese civilian officers and facilities on the islands except for small lighthouses. Japan’s administrative presence before the 2000s was mainly limited to sending JCG vessels and aircraft around the islands to guard against illegal landing and intrusion into the territorial seas. Even in such cases, the JCG was only used to warn against territorial invasions by Chinese and Taiwanese activists and fishermen, and to encourage their voluntary departure without arrest. At the same time, the Japanese government prohibited its own citizens from landing there and prevented right-wing activists’ attempts to construct facilities on the islands. Those were political considerations to avoid provoking China. In this context, a de facto ‘shelving’ of this issue was also observed on the Japanese side from the 1970s.

The 2004 Chinese protesters' landing on Uoturi Island was the first case in which Japan used the police to arrest Chinese protestors on the islands. On March 24, seven Chinese protesters intruded into Japan’s territorial waters and JCG vessels could not prevent the Chinese landings on the islands. Because it did not have an administrative presence on land, the JCG brought the Japanese Police on to the islands. The Japanese Police, with the support of the JCG, arrested and detained the intruders in accordance with the Japan’s Immigration Control and Refugee Recognition Act. They were released two days later as a result of Prime Minister Koizumi’s political decision, and expelled to China. The decision to release the Chinese intruders was an ‘extra-legal' measure, motivated by Koizumi’s political consideration of China. Koizumi’s decision to

Japan’s changing defense policy 69 release the intruders was in line with Japan’s conventional non-provocative posture and its implicit message not to destabilize the bilateral relationship.

The other case was the 2004 China’s Han-type submarine intrusion into Japan’s territorial sea around the Sakishima island chain, which was caused by China’s increasing naval activities in the East China Sea. On November 10, 2004, an unidentified submerged submarine intruded into Japan’s territorial waters between Ishigaki Island and Tarama Island in the south-west island chain.58 The JMSDF had begun to chase it two days earlier, but it had intruded into Japan’s territorial water, ignoring JCG and JMSDF alert signals.5’ The JMSDF communicated with it and encouraged it either to surface or to leave the waters. The submarine repeated a stop-and-go maneuver and, after its three-hour intrusion, it left Japan's territorial waters.60 The Defense Minister ordered action under the Maritime Security Operations of the SDF law but this was after the submarine’s departure from Japan's territorial waters.61 This was a ‘police operation’ under Article 82 of the SDF law (Maritime Security Operations) and different from the Defense Operations under Article 76 which allows Japan’s military counterattacks. In accordance with the order, the JMSDF continued to chase it for about six hours until it left Japan's ADIZ in the East China Sea, and the chase was then stopped.62 This incident was subsequently resolved by diplomacy.

The two incidents in 2004 considerably changed the Japanese political elites’ consensus on territorial defense of the off-shore islands in relation to China. Nationalistic sentiments influenced the political language among political elites though actual policy implementation was cautious. DPJ member Yukichi Maeda expressed his disgust when he saw Chinese intruders setting fire to Japan’s national flag and when they paraded the peace sign on television.63 Emerging pro-defense political elites and JNC proponents criticized Japan’s weak defense preparation over those incidents. JNC LDP member Yoshihisa Hurukawa called for a strong determination to defend Japanese territories.64 DPJ pro-defense leader Maehara raised the possibility of the application of the U.S.-Japan Mutual Security Treaty to the Senaku/Diaoyu islands.65 JNC lawmaker Nishimura asserted that Japan should start its military preparation against a possible Chinese ‘invasion.’66 He affirmed that if armed intruders landed, the police could not cope, and the SDF was required to deal with this type of invasion, and he urged the Japanese government to deploy one platoon of the JGSDF in the Senkaku/Diaoyu islands.67 As to the 2004 submarine intrusion, the DPJ expressed strong dissatisfaction with Koizumi’s non-provocative approach. The then-DPJ member Maehara, who was the Director of the Japan Defense Agency in the shadow cabinet, lodged a strong protest against China.68 The then-DPJ President Katsuya Okada, though he was liberal, asserted that China should apologize for this incident because it was a clear violation of Japan’s sovereignty.6’ However, over the Senkaku/Diaoyu islands, the call for the use of the SDF was limited to JNC proponents. The Koizumi government was cautious about developing a defense against China over those territorial issues. It did not change Japan’s non-provocative stance toward the islands by constraining nationalist emotions. The non-inclusion of China as a defenseobject in policy over the Senkaku/Diaoyu islands was maintained. As to the submarine incident, Koizumi cautiously waited for China’s reaction while expressing grave concerns to China. China finally acknowledged its unintended intrusion and expressed the view that this was regrettable, while not making clear that this was an apology.70 The Koizumi government regarded this as an apology and decided not to politicize the Chinese submarine intrusion further.71

On the other hand, a debate on defense policy in relation to China gradually started in the Diet after the Senkaku incident. In April 2004, the Committee of Security of the House of Representatives invited, as an expert witness. Professor Shigeo Hiramatsu, a China Specialist, and ex-admiral of the JMSDF Hideaki Kaneda. Before that time, Hiramatsu’s view had been ignored by the mainstream political circle. He was critical about China’s military build-up and its ambitions, and strongly recommended a military-centric approach toward China. As to Chinese submarine activities, he pointed out that China intended to deploy nuclear-powered submarines in the western Pacific to prevent the U.S. naval force approaching the East China Sea, and that China’s oceanographic research was not only for sea-bed natural resources but also for mapping the topography to assist the passage of submarines.72 He also hinted at the possibility that China might capture the Senkaku/Diaoyu islands by military or nonmilitary means.73 Kaneda referred to China’s ballistic missile capability which could target Japan.74

At the policy level, however, Japanese policy elites prioritized the JCG as a paramilitary to deal with China’s naval challenge to Japan’s offshore islands.75 The maintenance of the JCG-first approach reflected normative and practical considerations. Its use was regarded as appropriate under the 1947 constitution and would not be provocative to China. Even after the 2004 Chinese landing on the Senkaku/Diaoyu islands, the JDA Director Ishiba denied the deployment of the SDF over the Senkaku/Diaoyu islands for their defense.76 While he admitted the possibility of a Chinese military invasion into the south-west island chain, he pledged, only as a secondary choice, to ensure that an SDF capability would recapture the islands if they were invaded.77 The JCG was expected to play the initial role in all foreign vessels' intrusions into Japan's territorial seas, because the SDF was only allowed to repel attacks or aggression against Japan’s territories under Article 9. This position was maintained subsequently though preparation for the use of the SDF was examined by defense decision-makers.

Japan's preparation for a strengthened JCG’s capability was prompt. It not only increased the number of coast guard vessels but also created a legal framework for its activities. In March 2004. the resolution called ‘the defense of our territory’ was unanimously passed by the Committee of Security of the House of Representatives in the Diet.78 This resolution required the Japanese government to strengthen non-military patrolling and other measures so as not to repeat similar incidents, but this did not require any defense preparation. In September 2004, an LDP working group announced nine proposals for the protection of Japan's maritime interests. Those proposals included reinforcing the JCG around

Japan’s changing defense policy 71 the Senkaku'Diaoyu islands by introducing new patrol vessels and strengthening cooperation among the JCG, the police and the SDF.79 Under this political consensus, the JCG increased its patrols around the Senkaku Diaoyu islands to ward off Chinese intrusions.80 In 2005, the Japanese government decided to list the lighthouse on Uotsuri Island in the Senkaku/Diaoyu islands on its official naval chart, which the Japan Youth Association had constructed.81 Legal authority for the use of the JCG for territorial protection was strengthened. The Basic Act on Ocean Policy, which is a general law for Japan’s maritime policy, was enacted in 2007 and the term ‘maritime safety’ appeared in this law. Under this law, the Basic Plan on Ocean Policy was announced in 2008 (revised in 2013 and 2018) as a comprehensive plan of Japan’s maritime policy in line with the 2007 law. The protection of Japan’s territorial waters, including its off-shore islands, was stipulated as the duty of the JCG. On the other hand, the 2004 Chinese submarine incident changed JMSDF operations against sudden unidentified submarine intrusions into Japan’s territorial waters. This incident showed that the JMSDF did not have sufficient capability to cope with similar incidents. Debate emerged on whether the use of the Maritime Security Operations as a police operation was effective in such a case. For example, the then-DPJ member Goshi Hosono pointed to a wide gap between the Maritime Security Operations and the Defense Operations in the SDF law, and the necessity of another type of operation to fill the gap.82 Finally, to cope with unidentified submarines, the JCG-first approach was adjusted by giving the JMSDF the primary role under the order of Article 82 (police operation) not Article 76 (Defense Operations) of the SDF law. This was noted in the 2005 Defense White Paper.83

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