, TOKYO, July 26 – Chinese coastguard entered waters disputed with Japan for the first time Friday, ramping up an already tense situation as Tokyo mulled plans to establish a US Marines style force to protect its islands.
Four vessels spent three hours in the territorial waters of Tokyo controlled islands, where they traded warnings with their Japanese opposite number.
The move, by vessels whose crews were likely to be armed, according to academics, marks an upping of the ante in the blistering row over ownership of the Senkakus, which Beijing claims as the Diaoyus.
It came the day Japan’s Defence Ministry recommended establishing amphibious units and acquiring surveillance drones to protect outlying islands.
“To deploy units quickly in response to a situation, it is important to have an amphibious function that is similar to (the) US Marines,” capable of conducting landing operations on remote islands, it said.
The recommendation was part of an interim report approved by a high level defence meeting on Friday, which said more hardware was needed to monitor distant islands.
“Our country has some 6,800 islands and Japan stands at 6th place in the world in terms of interests it holds in the seas,” Defence Minister Itsunori Onodera told reporters.
“So protecting the islands is an enormous task, especially if it only relies on manned aircraft as we do currently.”
The report will be reflected in Japan’s long term defence outline that is expected to be published towards the end of this year, but which a defence official said would not include any reference to a “pre-emptive strike” capability.
Japan’s constitutionally mandated pacifism is cherished, but East Asia’s shifting power structures are testing received wisdom in Tokyo.
“We have this awareness that given changes in the security environment surrounding Japan, we have to discuss whether it is enough for us to depend on US forces in terms of capability to attack enemy territory,” a defence official told reporters.