Get Ready: China-Japan Tensions Set to Flare over East China Sea


China has been raising blood pressures for some time over its actions in the South China Sea. From its aggressive advocacy of territorial and jurisdictional claims to its expansive land reclamation activities, there are “serious questions about Chinese intentions,” says Admiral Harry Harris, Commander of United States Pacific Command.

However, the attention given to events in the South China Sea may soon shift north, as China and Japan slowly ramp up pressure on each other in the East China Sea. Three recent developments have the potential to escalate tensions between these Asian powers—and due to its alliance commitments to Japan, the United States as well.

New Coast Guard Vessels and Naval Bases

Beijing and Tokyo’s territorial dispute over the Senkaku Islands (Diaoyu Islands in Chinese) is nothing new. China disputes Japan’s claim that, in the closing days of the Sino-Japanese War (1894–95), the islands were terra nullius—no man’s land—and Tokyo had the right to incorporate them. Tensions over the islands have grown in recent years, after a Chinese fishing trawler intentionally rammed two Japan Coast Guard vessels in 2010, and Tokyo purchased some of the islands from their private owners in 2012. An outburst of provocative Chinese military and coast guard activity in the skies and waters around the islands followed these events. These activities have since become commonplace. In other words, a tense new normal was established, but it is increasingly stressed by three developments.


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