Long-simmering tensions erupt over disputed Senkaku Islands in East China Sea

Long-simmering tensions are erupting over the Senkaku Islands, an uninhabited archipelago in the East China Sea known as Diaoyu to China and Diaoyutai to Taiwan.

Japan has claimed the islands since the end of the Sino-Japanese War in 1895, but China and Taiwan also claim them, making the rocky outcrops a perpetual geopolitical flashpoint. Economic and territorial interests are at stake, according to the Council on Foreign Relations, which says the islands “have potential reserves of oil and natural gas, lie close to important shipping routes and are surrounded by rich fishing grounds”. .

The latest confrontation took place on Monday when two Chinese coast guard vessels entered the contiguous zone adjacent to the 12 nautical miles of water around the islands that Japan considers its territory. A Russian frigate also entered the contiguous zone.

The contiguous zone is generally defined as extending an additional 12 nautical miles beyond territorial waters, as defined by the United States National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration in accordance with international law.

Although nations do not enjoy the same degree of exclusivity and control in the contiguous zone that international law grants them within 12 nautical miles of territorial waters, Tokyo filed a protest with Beijing that day, according to the Deputy Chief Cabinet Secretary Seiji Kihara.

“According to history and international law, the Senkaku Islands are an integral part of Japanese territory,” Kihara said. “The government will handle this matter calmly and firmly to protect Japan’s land, territorial waters and airspace, but Chinese and Russian warships have not violated Japan’s territorial waters.”

At a press conference on Tuesday, Japanese Chief Cabinet Secretary Hirokazu Matsuno said that although the Russian vessel was able to avoid Typhoon Aere, two Chinese Coast Guard vessels also approached the Senkaku Islands and followed a Japanese fishing boat.

But experts suggested China and Russia were likely planning to enter the area – about 186 kilometers from Taiwan and about 410 kilometers from Japan – in a coordinated action to protest the US-Japan alliance.

“China and Russia have continued to pressure Japan because Japan is America’s most important ally in Asia,” said Yoichi Shimada, a professor of international politics at Fukui Prefectural University in Japan. Japan, at VOA Mandarin.

The Japanese Ministry of Defense said that at 7 a.m. on July 4, a Russian frigate entered the waters near the Senkaku Islands and cruised in the area for more than an hour.

Senkaku/Diaoyu Islands

“The Russian warship sailing in the waters of the Senkaku Islands helps China’s plan, allowing Chinese warships to enter the adjacent waters directly [as a] “warning”, creating the perception that China has the right to “substantially rule” the Senkaku Islands,” Shimada told VOA Mandarin. “So it’s very likely that it was prepared in advance.”

Moscow and Beijing have seemed to coordinate their actions in the region in the past. On May 24, Chinese and Russian warplanes conducted joint flights over the Sea of ​​Japan and the East China Sea as the leaders of the United States, India, Australia and of Japan were holding talks in Tokyo on regional security.

According to the website USNINewsa Russian surface group of seven ships has been operating near Japan since June 15.

On Tuesday, a Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman said the Diaoyu Islands have always been China’s territory.

“In recent years, right-wing Japanese fishing boats have repeatedly entered Chinese territorial waters off Diaoyu Dao. [Island] illegally,” Zhao Lijian said at a regular press briefing. “It seriously violated China’s sovereignty. On-site law enforcement activities by Chinese Coast Guard vessels against right-wing Japanese fishing boats were a legal and legitimate measure to protect China’s sovereignty.

Beijing has not commented on the movements of Russian warships near the Senkaku Islands.

from Japan Kyodo News reported on Tuesday that Chinese vessels have now been spotted near the islands, including in the contiguous zone outside Japanese waters, for 81 consecutive days, according to the Japanese Coast Guard.

Chen Wenjia, director of the National and Regional Development Research Center at Kainan University in Taiwan, said the purpose of China and Russia’s actions in the Senkaku Islands is to declare to the US-Russian alliance Japan – and the West more broadly – that Russia still has the resources to cooperate with China’s maritime strategy in Northeast Asia despite its war in Ukraine.

Chen believes that the entry of Chinese and Russian warships into the Senkakus was intended to intimidate Japan while making a statement against the US-Japan alliance.

“Such actions are enough to show that China and Russia will adhere to the Sino-Russian strategy in the face of major national security issues,” Chen told VOA Mandarin. “Within the framework of cooperation, as long as China launches a war in the Taiwan Strait or the East China Sea, Russia will definitely support China in the war.”

from Japan Kyodo News reported that Tokyo had told Moscow that it was monitoring developments around the Senkakus.

Japan has not issued an official protest to Russia given that Moscow does not claim the islands and due to the possibility that the Russian frigate entered the contiguous zone to escape a typhoon, a source said. Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Kyodo.

Japan and Russia have a separate, long-standing territorial dispute over the four southernmost islands in the Kuril Range, located off the northern coast of the Japanese island of Hokkaido, far from the East China Sea.

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