Tensions Between China and Japan Escalate in the East China Sea

East China Sea

In two separate encounters, Chinese fighter jets flew too close to Japanese reconnaissance planes over the East China Sea. The incidents further increase tensions over a set of deserted islands known as the Senkakus Islands by the Japanese, the Diaoyu Islands by the Chinese, and the Diaoyutia Islands by the Taiwanese.

During the first encounter, two Chinese SU-27 fighters flew within 150 feet of a Japanese P-3C reconnaissance plane. In the second incident, two different Chinese fighters flew within 100 feet of a Japanese YS-11 reconnaissance plane. The Chinese fighter pilots took no further aggressive action against the two Japanese propeller driven aircraft. Both Japanese flights safely return to base.

The Japanese have established an air defense identification zone over the island chain. Any foreign aircraft entering the area are required to identify themselves and provide flight plans. The Chinese have refused to do so.

In 2013, the Chinese made a similar declaration over the island chain that the Japanese ignore. Their Chinese military opted not to escalate their air defense identification demands when the US flew two B-52 bombers over the area.

The Chinese military has a history of risky aeronautic behavior. In 2001, a Chinese fighter pilot died after his plane collided with an American reconnaissance plane flying in international air space. The Americans were forced to make an emergency landing on the Chinese island of Hainan and were detained by the Chinese. Representatives from China and the US managed to have the American aircrew released.

The Chinese flybys are another example of escalated tensions between China and Japan. Chinese coast guard vessels and trawlers enter the disputed island chain once or twice a week. When such occurrences take place, both sides use loud speakers to launch verbal warnings to leave their territorial waters.

Japanese Defense Minister Itsunori Onodera said the close flybys by Chinese fighters past Japanese reconnaissance planes over the East China Sea further increases tension between the two nations. He added the Japanese reconnaissance pilots reported the Chinese fighters carried missiles.

The Chinese Ministry of National Defense confirmed Chinese military jets approached Japanese planes in the areas in question. A statement posted on the ministry’s website said the Chinese flights were a legitimate enforcement of China’s air defense identification zone. The Japanese aircraft were interfering with a joint Chinese and Russian naval exercise. The statement further read that the Chinese have the right to maintain air safety and to prevent aircraft from entering its airspace over the East China Sea.

Chinese military officials have warned the Japanese to cease all surveillance and interference where Chinese and Russian warships are conducting military exercises. Failure to do so will result in repercussions where the Japanese will be held responsible.

Over the past 12 months, the Japanese have scrambled pilots 409 times to intercept Chinese aircraft, an increase of more than 100 times since 2012. In 2010, a Japanese Coast Guard ship intercepted a Chinese trawler. The Japanese arrested the Chinese captain and later released him.

The Chinese have adopted similar policies in the South China Sea. An oil rig was recently placed in waters claimed by Vietnam. Anti-Chinese riots took place across Vietnam causing the evacuation of Chinese nationals.

The Chinese have also annoyed the Philippines by establishing a presence on the Johnson South Reef, a 74 acre island lacking trees or water. There, the Chinese have constructed a building that could be expanded into a military base. Furthermore, Chinese Coast Guard ships attempted and failed to intercept a Philippine resupply ship. That vessel sailed to the half sunken ship Sierra Madr where eight Filipino marines are stationed.

Japan is one of the few nations in Asia able to match the Chinese on a military basis. The Japanese government is considering the deployment of 1,050 troops to the islands of Amamioshima, Miyako, and Ishigaki. With continued Chinese military flights and Chinese ships entering the disputed island chain, war could break out between the Chinese and Japanese. The Japanese have a defense treaty with the Americans that could bring US forces into such a conflict.

Defense Minister Itsunori Onodera has said his government has attempted diplomatic talks to defuse the problems with the Chinese. At the time of the two Chinese intercepts, the Japanese reconnaissance aircraft flew in international waters to monitor the Chinese and Russian naval exercises. Defense Minister Itsunori said the Chinese the close approaches in the East China Sea were a deliberate act meant to intimidate the Japanese pilots.

Harassing two unarmed Japanese reconnaissance planes operating over international waters is part of the Chinese expansionist policy in the area. Both sides claim a series of inhabited island whose only purpose are a forward base of operation against the other. Chinese fighter jets flying too close to Japanese reconnaissance planes in the East China Sea will only increase tensions between the two countries.

By Brian T. Yates

Sources:

New York Times

Reuters

Hong Kong Standard