The 2010 Senkaku boat collision incident

The defense policy shift in the 2010 NDPG was nationalistically endorsed in domestic politics by the 2010 Senkaku boat collision incident. On September 7,

2010, a JCG patrol vessel found a Chinese fishery vessel operating within Japan's territorial waters around the Senkaku/Diaoyu islands. It ordered the Chinese vessel to stop under Japan's Fishery Law, but the Chinese vessel ignored the order. The JCG vessels around attempted to stop it physically, but the Chinese vessel rammed into a JCG one. The Chinese fishermen were arrested by the JCG under Japan’s Penal Code (the crime of obstruction of performances by public officials) and they were detained. It was the first case of the application of Japan’s Penal Code to Chinese people over the Senkaku/Diaoyu dispute. Six days later, the fishermen were released without prosecution and expelled to China, not including the captain. The captain was further detained for prosecution, but, after the rise of political and security tensions between Japan and China, on September 24, he was released and expelled to China as a political decision by the DPJ Naoto Kan government (2010-11).113

The 2010 incident was a sensational incident for Japanese politics. A JCG video record of the incident was released to the public by a JCG officer, which raised anti-China feeling. The release of the Chinese captain was denounced by political elites and the public because they asserted that this was a violation of Japanese law in Japan’s territory. With nationalistic language, the LDP called for a strengthening of the JCG presence, and its JNC lawmakers urged that the JGSDF unit be stationed on the islands.114 In reply to this nationalistic assertion, Chief Cabinet Secretary Yukio Edano, leftist political leader of the DPJ Noda government, stated that the Japanese government would expel foreign invaders in self-defense at any cost if it happened.115 After the incident, China intensified its naval presence around the Senkaku/Diaoyu islands. The number of intrusions by vessels belonging to the China’s National Ocean Bureau, the China’s National Fishery Bureau and the Chinese Coast Guard into Japan’s territorial waters around the islands increased.116 The JCG decided, in 2011, to increase and deploy new patrol vessels with helicopter platforms specifically for the islands and changed the formation of the patrols to a continuing presence around them.117 The DPJ Noda government decided to buy three key islands of the Senkaku/Diaoyu islands from a Japanese owner in September 2012 to prevent nationalist Tokyo Governor Shintaro Ishihara from purchasing them. To counterNoda’s decision, China immediately increased the number of coast guard intrusions into Japan’s territorial waters around the islands. Paramilitary security tensions over the islands became routine.

In July 2012, the then-JNC party Sunrise of Japan (Tachiagare Nihon) demanded the deployment of the SDF in the Senkaku/Diaoyu islands in its political manifesto.118 Shinzo Abe and the LDP aggressively denounced the DPJ’s release of the Chinese captain in the 2010 incident, and asserted the necessity to station Japanese 'public officers’ on the islands.119 The Abe-led LDP included this proposal in the 2012 national election campaign manifesto with the slogan ‘the defense of the islands’ to appeal to the public.120 In November 2012, Abe, elected as LDP president, launched the plan of using decommissioned JMSDF vessels for JCG operations around the Senkaku/Diaoyu islands, though it was not realized.121 The defense of the Senkaku/Diaoyu islands was debated among

Japanese defense experts for fear of a Chinese landing, but it was not actually implemented. DP J Defense Minister Kitazawa officially denied the possibility of deploying the SDF there at that stage while maintaining surveillance by P3-C airplanes.122 LDP Ishiba also affirmed the necessity of strengthening the JCG, not the SDF.123 Behind the scenes, it was reported that the DPJ government had started to examine the stationing of the SDF on the Sakishima islands, which are located about 150km to the Senkaku/Diaoyu Islands, from the 2011 fiscal year, but abandoned the idea.124 The DPJ government was cautious about the escalation of the tensions over the Senkaku/Diaoyu islands. Ignoring their government’s prohibition, Japanese nationalist groups, including some members of a local assembly, landed on the islands in January, July, August and September of 2012, and in the September case, the police report on the group was sent to the public prosecutor’s office. As a Chinese reaction, 14 Chinese activists from Hong Kong landed on the Senkaku/Diaoyu islands on August 15, 2012 and were arrested by Japanese police, but they were soon released and expelled to China.125 Non-provocative crisis management was observed, but a policy of domestic credibility was not clearly expressed by the DPJ government except for the strengthened JCG and its commitment to territorial defense. The DPJ government showed no effort to explain the security issue and possible solutions to the public.

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