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Tensions continued over disputed island chain in East China Sea. Japan’s Okinawa city council 22 June approved bill changing administrative status of disputed Senkaku/Diaoyu Islands in East China Sea, asserting Japanese claim to islands; Beijing same day said it would lodge strong protest with Tokyo and warned “administrative re-designation is a serious provocation”, after Chinese Foreign Ministry 19 June cautioned against any change to status quo. Amid daily Chinese maritime presence around disputed islands since 14 April, Japanese coast guard 22 June reported four Chinese coast guard vessels in contiguous zone outside Japanese territorial waters. Japanese military 20 June reported detecting suspected Chinese submarine near Amami-Oshima island in East China Sea. Lawmakers from Japan’s ruling-Liberal Democratic party 4 June submitted resolution calling on govt to protest China’s “stalking” of Japanese boats in waters near islands. Amid controversy surrounding new Chinese national security law in Hong Kong, Beijing 10 June criticised Japanese PM Abe’s effort to take lead on G7 (group of seven nations including U.S. and Japan) statement on proposed legislation; G7 statement, released 17 June, highlighted “grave concerns” and urged China “to re-consider this decision”; Japanese Defence Minister Taro Kono 30 June said passage of law would “significantly affect” Chinese President Xi’s planned state visit to Japan.
Tensions continued amid maritime incidents. Japanese Coast Guard said four Chinese Coast Guard vessels 8 May entered Japanese territorial waters around disputed Senkaku/Diaoyu Islands in East China Sea, two Chinese ships briefly chased Japanese fishing boat; Tokyo lodged protest with Beijing over incident, while next day two Chinese vessels re-entered Japanese territorial waters. Also in East China Sea, U.S. B-1B bombers 4 May conducted training flight, and U.S. navy 19 May reported undertaking mine warfare training exercise. Beijing reportedly made diplomatic overtures to Tokyo, including suggesting relaxing rules on Japanese business community traveling to China. Lawmakers from ruling Liberal Democratic party 29 May urged govt to reconsider proposed state visit of Chinese President Xi following concerns over imposition of controversial new Chinese national security law in Hong Kong.
Tensions persisted amid continued Chinese military exercises. Japanese Ministry of Defence reported Chinese naval flotilla including Liaoning aircraft carrier 11 April passed through Miyako Strait in East China Sea, before sailing on past eastern and southern coasts of Taiwan to carry out drills; also reported flotilla returned to East China Sea through Miyako Strait 28 April (see Taiwan Strait). Tokyo 9 April announced Japanese air force scrambled jets to intercept Chinese military aircraft 675 times 1 April 2019- 31 March 2020, 5.8% increase compared to previous year.
Amid COVID-19 spread, Japan 5 March said Chinese President Xi had postponed his planned April state visit to Japan. Japanese news sources 11 March reported Japanese navy built its first ocean surveillance ship since 1992, due to be deployed in 2021, in response to concerns over Chinese submarines’ activities close to and in Japanese waters, and with a view to monitoring North Korea over its development of sub-marine technology. Japanese warship and Chinese fishing boat 30 March collided in East China Sea; Chinese foreign ministry spokesperson said one Chinese fisherman injured.
Chinese and Japanese FMs met 15 Feb on sidelines of Munich Security Conference in Germany: Beijing reassured Tokyo Chinese President Xi will visit Japan in April as planned despite coronavirus-19 outbreak and amid bilateral tensions in East China Sea.
Low-level tensions returned ahead of Chinese President Xi’s planned state visit to Japan in April; Japanese Defence Minister Tarō Kōno 14 Jan urged Beijing to respect international norms and said Japan “cannot overlook” China’s military presence in area around disputed Diaoyu/Senkaku Islands. Japan’s Ministry of Defence 26 Jan released report showing air force scrambled to intercept Chinese military planes 523 times April-Dec 2019, 9.9% increase on previous year, with most taking place over Diaoyu/Senkaku Islands. Japanese media early-Jan reported Tokyo threatened – under U.S. pressure – to retract US$102 million investment in unnamed port project in El Salvador after latter gave operating authority to Chinese company; in response, El Salvador govt suspended tender process for operating rights. Amid China-Indonesia tensions over Natuna Islands (see South China Sea), Indonesian President Widodo 10 Jan asked Japan to increase investment in fisheries, energy and tourism around islands, while Indonesia and Japan agreed to strengthen coast guard coordination.
Chinese and Japanese defence ministers 18 Dec agreed in meeting in Beijing to increase communication and enhance mutual trust between two countries; Japan also expressed concern over China’s military presence in area around disputed Diaoyu/Senkaku Islands. Meeting marked first such visit by a Japanese defence minister since 2009. Japanese govt purchased uninhabited island in south between Kyushu and Okinawa, for 16 billion yen ($146 bn) from private developer, reportedly planning to use it as training facility for both U.S. and Japanese forces.
Speaking at Xiangshan security forum in Beijing 21 Oct, Chinese defence minister Wei Fenghe stated that disputed Diaoyu islands, which Japan also claims, are “inalienable parts of China’s territory”. Japan released its 2019 Defence White Papers late Sept, describing China as “strategic threat” ahead of North Korea, and accusing China of claiming seas and islands controlled by Japan; said China’s navy and air force had “expanded and intensified their activities in the surrounding sea areas and airspace of Japan, including the area surrounding the Senkaku Islands (Diaoyu)”. Japanese PM Abe 23 Oct called for Beijing to take “positive action” on Japanese national detained in China in Sept, believed to have been accused of spying.
Chinese Premier Li said after 20-22 Aug trilateral meeting in Beijing with Japan and South Korea that cooperation is “important safeguard and catalyst for region” and countries must “defend regional peace and stability”. Washington Post 21 Aug reported Japan building “wall” of defensive installations, including missile bases, on Ryuku archipelago.
Japanese coast guard 10 and 15 July spotted four Chinese coast guard ships around contested Senkaku/Diaoyu islands. International tensions increased over Chinese and Russian planes’ incursion of airspace over islands contested by Japan and South Korea; joint air exercise 23 July saw three Russian and two Chinese military planes fly over Dokdo islands in East Sea/Sea of Japan, claimed by both South Korea and Japan; Russia denied violation of airspace but confirmed it took part in joint patrol with Chinese aircraft. Japan’s ministry of defence said it had scrambled fighters to intercept planes (see Korean Peninsula).