Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has once again issued a warning against any intrusion into Japan’s territorial waters, this time referring to foreign submarines that will attempt to pass through underwater. This is in response to the Defense Ministry’s report that a foreign submarine was spotted just outside the contiguous zone, south of Kumejima Island in Okinawa Prefecture on Tuesday.
The contiguous zone is a 12 nautical mile strip outside territorial waters so the submarine still did not violate any international laws. Rules state that vessels can pass freely through the waters given that their intentions are peaceful. Submarines are required to surface and display their national flags if they are already navigating in territorial waters. There is still no indication from what country the spotted vessel was but Ministry officials have said that they probably belong to the Chinese Navy.
Abe told the parliament that submarines entering territorial waters is a “serious issue” and would require maritime security action. This indicates that the Ministry could direct Japan’s Self Defense Forces to move if there would be any confirmed intrusion. This incident, while not violating any laws, is too close to reports of three Chinese government ships that were near the disputed Senkaku/Diaoyu islands last Monday. The Japanese Coast Guard says that this is the 43rd incident of Chinese ships entering Japanese waters since September 2012.
While observers do not believe that China would mount any actual attack or military move on the waters, it is just further proof of them boasting their naval and military capabilities. They have been criticized for showing off an aggressive stance against countries that have a territorial dispute with them, particularly Vietnam, the Philippines and Japan.
Foreign submarine spotted near Japanese territorial waters
“I was prepared to order ‘maritime security operations’ immediately upon getting approval from the Prime Minister (Shinzo Abe), if the submarine entered Japan’s territorial waters,” Defense Minister Itsunori Onodera told reporters on May 13. Under the current Self-Defense Forces Law, Onodera has the authority to order Japan’s Self-Defense Forces (SDF) units to conduct whatever was necessary to protect Japanese lives and property at risk, and to maintain the nation’s security at sea. These circumstances, often termed as “maritime security operations,” allow the SDF to use weapons in lawful self-defense and emergency evacuation of citizens. The last time such an order was made was in November 2004, when a Chinese submarine entered Japan’s territorial waters – the area around the Sakishima island chain in Okinawa Prefecture. The latest case did not involve any incursion into Japanese territorial waters, but Onodera is believed to have mentioned such information as a stern warning to any country that may have been involved.
It is known that international law does not prohibit submarines from entering contiguous zones such as in this incident. It is a calculated tact by Japan’s Defense Ministry to make the latest incident public because of the fact that the passage through the contiguous zone was over a prolonged period of time, which made it very unusual. Tense maritime situations have been par for the course with China and Japan as the territorial dispute over the Senkaku/Diaoyu island chain continues to drag on. On Monday, three Chinese maritime surface ships broke the 12-nautical-mile rule and approached one of the islands, which according to the Japanese Coast Guard was the 43rd incident where Chinese ships in the area entered Japanese territorial waters since September 2012. This incident, including the submarine issue, is causing further tension in an already escalating situation.
Source – JDP