Photo/IllutrationA Japan Coast Guard helicopter in a drill with Indian patrol boasts off the coast of Chennai, southern India, on Jan. 17, 2018 (Asahi Shimbun file photo)

  • Photo/Illustraion
  • Photo/Illustraion

The Japan Coast Guard is moving to set up a special section as early as this summer to work closely with other nations to counter maritime advances by China in the region, sources said.

Specifically, it will strengthen support programs to Southeast Asian countries and collaborate with them to help protect collective interests.

The coast guard also envisages playing a more active international role by hosting meetings attended by leading members of similar organizations in other countries, and thereby seizing the initiative in the field of maritime safety, the sources added.

In recent years, Chinese government vessels have intruded into Japanese territorial waters around the disputed Senkaku Islands in the East China Sea, raising tensions between the two countries.

China is also reclaiming reefs in the South China Sea and transforming them into military strongholds, causing strains in relations with Vietnam, the Philippines and other countries, which also dispute sovereignty claims in the area.

It was against this background that Japan decided to strengthen its cooperation with Southeast Asian nations.

Since 2000, the coast guard has held joint drills with some nations in the region to deal with pirates active in busy sea lanes. It has also offered patrol boats and promoted personnel exchanges.

In spring 2017, the coast guard appointed an officer to promote international cooperation for maritime safety and provide specialist support to those countries.

Along with keeping China in check through heightened cooperation with surrounding countries to beef up maritime safety, the coast guard has also embarked on creating a framework for dialogue.

In September 2017, it held an international meeting in Tokyo for the first time in which top members of its counterparts gathered from 34 countries, not only from Southeast Asia but also from China, the United States, Russia and Australia.

The meeting was held to encourage China, which through its unilateral maritime activities in the region is changing the status quo, to join the framework for multilateral dialogue. The coast guard also plans to hold a second meeting in Japan, possibly by the end of this year.

The task of expanding cooperation with counterparts of other countries had been conducted by officials assigned to handle international and crisis management issues, for example, dealing with a new type of influenza and North Korea’s long-range missiles.

Viewing cooperation with coast guards of other countries as increasingly important, the coast guard set up the special section as a strategic move.

The 24 members of the section, set up within the general affairs division of its head office, are tasked with, among other things, promoting international cooperation for maritime safety.

It will headed by an official for international strategy, a newly established post that carries the same rank as a conventional section chief.

(This article was written by Shun Niekawa and Yoshitaka Ito.)