Though free of the large-scale anti-Japanese demonstrations and acerbic exchanges that have characterized the recent past, the cold peace between China and Japan continued in the early months of 2017. There were no meetings of high-level officials, and none were scheduled. Mutual irritants continued on familiar topics: defense and territorial issues, Taiwan, trade and tourism, and textbooks and history.
Defense and territorial issues
Each side continued to express apprehension over the other’s military preparations. As the year opened, Japanese sources revealed that Chinese government ships had entered the waters contiguous to the Senkaku/Diaoyu Islands more than 1,000 times since the Japanese government bought three of the five from private Japanese owners in 2012. Japan continued providing updates with each new incursion, whether maritime or aerial, with China responding that the areas involved were within the PRC’s self-delineated exclusive economic zone (EEZ) and air defense identification zone (ADIZ). Chinese ships continued to intrude on a regular basis throughout the reporting period.
A nightmare concern for Japan involves gray area situations in which a large number of fishing vessels staffed by soldiers in disguise land on the Senkaku (Diaoyu) Islands despite Coast Guard efforts to stop them, overpower police officers, raise the Chinese flag, and settle in, protected by the Chinese Navy. Under current Japanese law, the Self-Defense Forces (SDF) would not be authorized to use force to deal with the situation, since technically the Chinese actions do not constitute an armed attack by a foreign nation. Successive US administrations, and most recently Secretary of Defense James Mattis, have affirmed that the US-Japan Mutual Security Treaty includes the islands in its pledge to defend Japan against armed invasion. But this is not armed invasion.