Japan planned to sail on an MSDF ship near the Chinese-controlled islet in the South China Sea

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In 2016, Japan planned to ship a Maritime Self-Defense Force vessel to an area claimed by China to be its territorial waters in the South China Sea, in response to a similar move by China into Japanese waters. to the north, sources close to Sino-Japanese. ties said Saturday.

The planned move, a Japanese equivalent of the US Navy’s “freedom of navigation operations” in the South China Sea, however, was never implemented, fearing its execution would seriously damage bilateral ties, according to the report. Diplomat. sources.

The Chinese government under President Xi Jinping has in recent years aggressively asserted its territorial claims in regional waters, including over the Japanese-administered Senkaku Islands in the East China Sea.

Chinese Coast Guard patrollers have regularly sailed near uninhabited islands, known in China as Diaoyu, sometimes entering the territorial waters around them.

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On June 9, 2016, a Chinese navy vessel first entered a strip of water just outside the territorial waters 12 nautical miles around the Senkaku. He also sailed to territorial waters.

Six days later, another Chinese Navy vessel entered territorial waters near Kuchinoerabu Island, about 70 km from the southern tip of the main island of Kyushu in the southwest of the country.

The Japanese government viewed all of the Chinese actions as signaling a higher level of intensity that warranted a new response, according to a senior Self-Defense Force officer.

A Chinese Navy vessel sails in territorial waters near Kuchinoerabu Island, about 70 km from the southern tip of the main island of Kyushu in the southwest of the country, in June 2016. | MINISTRY OF DEFENSE / VIA KYODO

Officials from the government’s National Security Secretariat subsequently began to consider possible countermeasures, including in response to Chinese Coast Guard vessels that had entered the waters around the Senkakus.

A countermeasure devised primarily by the Defense Ministry’s Maritime Staff Office was to sail an MSDF vessel into what China considers its territorial waters around an artificially constructed island in the China Sea. southern.

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Such a freedom of navigation operation was to be conducted en route to and from the sea off Somalia where the Japanese maritime forces conducted anti-piracy escort missions, and it was not planned to be announced by the following to avoid provoking Beijing to the extreme.

Even without announcing the operation, it was deemed possible to send a message to Beijing because the Chinese side would surely detect the close passage of a Japanese navy vessel, according to the sources.

But the plan was never implemented because the government of then Prime Minister Shinzo Abe was making diplomatic moves at the time to improve Sino-Japanese relations with a view to making Xi’s first visit. in Japan.

“China would try to use any unsupervised time to its advantage,” one of the sources said when explaining the plan. “It is therefore essential to consider various responses.”

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China claims most of the South China Sea and, to back up its claims, has built man-made islands with military fortifications. But the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea does not recognize the territorial waters of artificial islands.

At the same time, the convention stipulates that “the ships of all States, whether coastal or landlocked, enjoy the right of innocent passage through the territorial sea”.

The United States, arguing that the waters around Chinese-made man-made islands are international waters, has repeatedly sent warships through them. He affirmed “the rights and freedoms of navigation”, in accordance with international law.

PHOTO GALLERY (CLICK TO ENLARGE)

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