Crossing the line again: China targets natural resources in Japan’s EEZ

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In early June, it was confirmed that the Chinese oceanographic research vessel Dong Fang Hong 3 conducted business in Japan’s Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) north of Ishigaki Island, Okinawa Prefecture. An interview with a government official on June 25 revealed that the ship was strongly suspected of sampling marine sediments.

China’s growing interest in the region is evident. As early as 2018, she began probing the region, which is known to be potentially rich in mineral resources. China should take even bolder steps to expand its control of the waters through research activities such as the analysis of seabed samples.

In a fresh bid to win the right to develop resources in the waters surrounding Japan, China has released state-sponsored documents on the results of unauthorized surveys in recent years. Using “scientific findings” to refute Japan’s position has become its latest trend.

China will likely use the same modus operandi again. Japan must take countermeasures against China’s attempts to alter the status quo through the authority of what it calls “science.”

The Dong Fang Hong Incident 3

The Japanese Foreign Ministry reported that Dong Fang Hong 3 conducted research without the consent of the Japanese government from June 4 to June 7, 2022, in seas about 70 km north of Ishigaki Island, Japan Prefecture. Okinawa.

Conditions at the site led government officials to believe that a cylindrical sampling device called piston corer has been used. The device makes it possible to collect sediments while preserving the intact layers by plunging a tube into the seabed.

China’s research vessel Dong Fang Hong 3 operates a crane in Japan’s Exclusive Economic Zone off Ishigaki Island, Okinawa Prefecture, June 4, 2022. (Courtesy World Warden Headquarters -regional coasts.)

Remotely Operated Vehicles (ROVs) equipped with underwater cameras and robotic arms have also reportedly been used to dig the seabed and collect sediment.

According to Automatic Identification System (AIS) data on the Internet, Dong Fang Hong 3 has been active at Mount Yaeyama located in the deepest part of the Okinawa Trench, about 2,000 meters deep. The mound rises about 200 meters above the seabed. Another Chinese research vessel is known to have surveyed the site in 2018 using an ROV, and the results were published in a paper in 2020.

Intrusion based on Japanese research

In 2017, just before the previous Chinese investigation of the site, a team from the Japan Agency for Marine and Earth Science and Technology (JAMSTEC) published an article about his discovery from the Yokosuka site, an area of ​​hydrothermal activity at Yaeyama Knoll.

The Yokosuka site may contain deposits of resources such as rare metals and methane hydrate, a compound expected as a next-generation fuel source.

A government official said: “China clearly selects the maritime area based on information from Japan. He probably systematically investigates the actual amount of resource deposits.

Operate outside agreed rules

Japan and China have a mutual notification system that involves notifying each other through diplomatic channels before conducting scientific research activities on each other’s territory beyond the Japan-China geographic median line. However, it became a dead letter once China unilaterally decided not to comply.

China’s alleged resource exploration goes beyond the realm of scientific research and poses a major problem to Japan’s ability to manage its own natural resources.

With China in mind, Japan revised the Mining Law in 2012 to regulate resource exploration, which now requires permission from the Minister of Economy, Trade and Industry, regardless of aim.

The Japan Coast Guard has the authority to conduct on-site inspections and issue cease and desist orders. However, Japanese patrol vessels cannot exercise their authority against research vessels as government vessels enjoy jurisdictional immunity under the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea.

Protesting through diplomatic channels is the strongest response Japan can make under the current circumstances. But China has shown no indication of compliance.

For many years, Japan has not been able to verify the content of China’s searches on the site, and as one government official put it, the government recognizes that it is “faced with the need to ‘a new asset to counter the outrages of China’.

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(Read the report in Japanese on this link.)

Author: The Sankei Shimbun

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