KEY POINTS

  • China has claimed the islands since the 1970
  • Japanese Defense Minister Nobuo Kishi: there is no territorial dispute over the Senkakus
  • Kishi said Chinese threats over Taiwan have an impact on Japan's security

China's repeated military intrusions in the East China Sea, a tactic that Beijing has repeatedly employed to wear out the militaries of rival nations with which it has competing territorial claims, seems to be having the just opposite effect on Japan. Far from being cowed down, Tokyo has vowed to protect the Senkaku Islands, known as Diaoyu Islands in China, by "matching any Chinese threat ship for ship, and beyond" if necessary.

Japanese Defense Minister Nobuo Kishi told CNN during an interview that Tokyo considers the Senkakus unquestionably its territory and the islands would be defended as such.

"Against Chinese action to Senkaku Islands and other parts of the East China Sea ... we have to demonstrate that the government of Japan is resolutely defending our territory with the greater number of Japanese coast guard vessels than that of China," Kishi was quoted by CNN. 

"There is no territorial dispute relating to the Senkaku Islands between Japan and other countries," he added. 

China has laid claim to the chain of uninhabited islands that lie 1,200 miles (1,900 kilometers) southwest of Tokyo since the 1970s, when oil reserves were first deteced around the area. Japan administers and controls the island, as part of Ishigaki in Okinawa Prefecture. 

The islands are uninhabited, but the area around the Senkakus are believed to hold large reserves of oil, making them important for Beijing and Tokyo, which are big importers of fossil fuels. The area, also rich in fishing resources, is an important shipping lane used by Japan, South Korea and China for their energy imports.

The islands have now turned a focal point of the rivalry between the two countries, with Chinese vessels and warplanes conducting repeated incursions into Japanese territory. Tokyo says Chinese coast guard vessels have ventured into Japanese territorial waters, or within 12 nautical miles of Japanese land, a total of 88 times between January 1 and the end of August.

Last year, the Chinese foreign ministry claimed that the islands were an inherent part of China's territory and therefore Beijing would carry out patrols and law enforcement activities in these waters. 

Japan's Kishi told CNN in the interview of the Chinese intrusions, "There are actions that continue to challenge an integral part of Japan's sovereign territory. These actions are making it a fait accompli." 

The defense minister also highlighted Taiwan, saying China's threat to invade it has put Japan " in a constant state of vigilance." China claims the island to be a breakaway province and has stepped up invasion drills. 

Tokyo recently mentioned in its annual white paper that stabilizing the situation surrounding Taiwan is important for Japan's security. Japan is now  deploying  extra defense personnel and missiles on Ishigaki island, situated 300 kilometers from Taiwan. Tokyo believes that any attack on Taiwan could quickly spread to Japan's southern islands -- Japan's first line of defense. 

Even as China has built up its navy and air force, Japan has also upgraded its defense capabilities, refitting helicopter carriers to carry the advanced F-35 stealth fighters it has bought from the United States. 

"What's happening in Taiwan is directly linked to Japan," he said, adding that Taiwan sits astride his country's "energy lifeline."

"Ninety percent of the energy that Japan uses is imported through the areas around Taiwan. What could happen in Taiwan could likely be an issue for Japan, and in that case, Japan will have to take the necessary response to that situation," Kishi said.

Kishi also spoke about his country's relations with the U.S., adding that the bilateral military training with the U.S. will continue.

With Japan making clear its resolve, it remains to be seen whether nations in the South China Sea, where Beijing has carried out even more grave provocations and land grabs, will also put their foot down stand up to Chinese bullying tactics. 

Senkaku Islands, East China Sea File image of the group of disputed islands, Uotsuri island (top), Minamikojima (bottom) and Kitakojima, known as Senkaku in Japan and Diaoyu in China is seen in the East China Sea Photo: Reuters/Kyodo