The Ministry of Foreign Affairs yesterday would not comment on reports that China was allegedly on the brink of permanently deploying large fisheries patrol vessels near the Diaoyutai Islands (釣魚台) claimed by Taiwan, Japan and China.
Ministry spokesman James Chang (章計平) said the ministry was not able to comment, as the Mainland Affairs Council was responsible for assessing the authenticity of the information and communications with China.
Chang said the ministry would closely monitor reports on the matter and restated the ministry’s position that all parties should set aside disputes and handle the matter peacefully and rationally.
A diplomatic official told the Taipei Times on condition of anonymity that the deployment was related to Japan’s new defense guidelines, approved by the Diet on Friday, which painted China as a bigger threat than Russia and as a result was shifting its defense from the northern island of Hokkaido to the south, such as Okinawa and territories claimed by both Japan and China.
The Asahi Shimbun reported on Monday that an unnamed “senior Chinese official” at the Ministry of Agriculture’s Bureau of Fisheries had informed it in an exclusive interview on Saturday that China could soon permanently deploy large fisheries patrol vessels in waters near the Diaoyutais.
The deployment, the official said, was part of measures to challenge Japan’s control of the islands off Okinawa Prefecture, over which Japan has de facto control, although sovereignty is contested.
Beijing intends to press its claims over the Diaoyutais and to disclose details of its surveillance activities to other countries, the official said.
In comments that have yet to be confirmed by the Chinese government and could constitute “selective leaking” to assess foreign reactions, the official said the -patrol vessels to be deployed to the area would have a displacement of more than 1,000 tonnes and -maintain continuous patrols near the islands.
Late last month, China deployed the new 2,580 tonne Yuzheng 310 — which is equipped with two helicopters and, at 22 knots, is reportedly the fastest ship in China’s 1,300-vessel fisheries patrol fleet — near the islands. The Yuzheng 310 and Yuzheng 201 were spotted in the area on Nov. 20, the Japan Coast Guard said.
According to the Asahi, China’s fleet at present only comports nine vessels with displacement above 1,000 tonnes.
Beijing reportedly has a five-year plan to build at least five new patrol vessels of more than 3,000-tonne displacement. Until this is achieved, and as China’s current fleet is insufficient to ensure constant surveillance of the Diaoyutais, Beijing will commission private fishing boats to operate as patrol boats in the area in a joint effort by “the government and the private sector,” the paper reported.
“It is a legitimate right to safeguard China’s maritime interests and the country is unlikely to -relax the arrangement in the future,” the official told the Asahi, calling the move “unprecedented” and “epoch-making.”
Besides its claims of ownership over the Diaoyutais, which are located in the East China Sea, China also claims sovereignty over the South China Sea, describing it as a “core national interest” on par with Taiwan and Tibet and key to its “national integrity.”
The announcement comes amid rising regional tensions over disputed waters and a series of collisions involving Chinese fishing vessels. Regional powers, including the US, are increasingly wary of Beijing’s claims over the South China Sea and East China Sea, effectively the entire waters included within the “first island chain” — a line that extends from the Kurile Islands, the main Japanese islands, the Ryukyu Islands, Taiwan, the Philippines and Indonesia.