News bulletins in China are saturated with coverage of Chinese paramilitary ships jostling for position with their Japanese counterparts around the rocky islands.
PRESSURE ON JAPAN COAST GUARD
There is evidence that Japan’s coast guard is feeling the pressure. It plans to form a new, 600-member unit equipped with 12 patrol ships that will be deployed exclusively on missions around the disputed islands.
It is also boosting its budget for ship and aircraft purchase by 23 percent to ￥32.5 billion (US$348.15 million) for the year starting next month, as well as adding 119 personnel to the Japan Coast Guard force. That would be the biggest staff increase in 32 years.
As tensions mounted around the islands ahead of Shinzo Abe return to office as prime minister in December last year, he proposed converting retired navy vessels into coast guard patrol ships.
Japanese Defense Minister Itsunori Onodera said on Tuesday that his ministry and the coast guard were discussing the idea.
Beijing has so far held its navy back from waters immediately surrounding the disputed territory, but its warships are almost constantly patrolling nearby seas and other waterways around the Japanese-administered archipelago, according to PLA announcements.
In late January, the PLA said a naval fleet would conduct a naval exercise in the Western Pacific after “sailing through islands” off the Chinese coast, a clear reference to the Diaoyutais. The navy had conducted seven similar exercises last year, it said.
In a series of subsequent bulletins, the PLA said three of its most modern warships, the missile destroyer Qingdao and the missile frigates Yantai and Yancheng would make up the fleet which would conduct training in the Yellow Sea and the East China Sea in an 18-day deployment.
The US Navy has also monitored the sharply increased tempo of Chinese naval and paramilitary operations near Japan.
In an unusually blunt public assessment, a senior US naval intelligence officer Captain James Fanell said at a seminar in San Diego, California, on Jan. 31, that the PLA Navy had sent seven surface action groups into the Philippines Sea south of Japan last year. It had also deployed the biggest number of submarines in its history into this area, he added.
It was unclear if Fanell was referring to the same seven deployments the PLA disclosed last month.
“Make no mistake, the PLA Navy is focused on war at sea and about sinking an opposing fleet,” Fanell said.
The US officer also said that China Marine Surveillance, a civil proxy for the PLA, had become “a full-time maritime sovereignty harassment organization” with the goal of enforcing territorial claims.
The frequency of deployments appears set to continue with the PLA announcing on Feb. 27 it would conduct 40 military exercises this year with an increased emphasis on “core security-related interests.”
Senior Chinese officials have strongly implied that Japan’s claim over the Diaoyutais is an attack on one of China’s core interests, an important distinction to Beijing in defining its non-negotiable national priorities.
In a speech to the politburo in late January, Chinese Vice President Xi Jinping (習近平) referred to the pain of “wartime atrocities,” an apparent reference to Japan’s bloody invasion and occupation of China last century, according to a report of his remarks carried by Xinhua news agency.