China-Japan frontline sees a ‘cold peace’

Officials cite Chinese intrusion into Japan’s ‘territorial waters’, but peace prevails From their forward base in Ishigaki, a part of the Okinawa chain of 150 islands, large ships of the Japanese coast guard, all gleaming white, keep a tight round- the-clock vigil on a group of islands, 170 km away. Their mission is to ensure that Japan maintains its hold over these small but strategically significant islands in the East China Sea. The Japanese call them Senkaku, and designate them as sovereign territory. According to the Japanese argument, in the late 19th century, about 200 nationals pioneered a settlement in these uninhabited islands. Over there, they established a business of gathering albatross feathers, which were used for making warm clothing. China, they say, contested Japanese sovereignty only after 1968, when a UN body cited the possibility of oil reserves in the area. On the contrary, China as well as Taiwan point to documentary evidence suggesting that China held the territory before the onset of the First Sino-Japanese War. Consequently, Japan has been accused of seizing this territory, which should be returned, in tune with practice after the Second World War, when imperial Japan gave back captured territories to their original owners. Military objective At the Sasakawa Peace Foundation in Tokyo, Special Research Fellow Susumu Takai asserts that China’s real military objective is the Miyako strait, and establishing a hold on Senkaku islands would be a step in that direction. Though in international waters, the 250 km wide passageway between the Miyako and Okinawa islands is seen as a major choke-point through which China’s People’s Liberation Army Navy can channel into the West Pacific, dominated by the U.S. Navy. “China’s real intention is not just to dominate but control the Miyako strait,” observes Mr. Takai. In anticipation of a worst-case scenario, the Mayor of Ishigaki, Yoshitaka Nakayama, acknowledges that some additional ground troops of the Japan Self Defence Forces (JSDF) have been deployed on the Miyako island. Besides, defences of some other nearby islands such as Yonaguni, which is only 108 km from Taiwan, have been reinforced. Miki Iwao, President of the Ishigaki branch of Yaeyama Defence Association — an organisation that links the Army and civil society — points out that the JSDF needs to plug the military gap between the mainland Kyushu island and the Okinawa island chain. At the Ishigaki coast guard office, Rear Admiral Hiroyasu Hanai, explains the ground rules, which ensure that a cold peace continues to prevail along the Senkaku/Diaoyu frontline. “When the Chinese coast guard ships intrude into our territorial water, our ships sail alongside them,” he said during a power point presentation aboard one of the ships. “Both sides then blare their positions on the islands over loudspeakers. On the electronic scroll bar on the side of the ships, the audio message is reinforced in writing,” says Mr. Hanai.

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