In the last 48 hours, Japan scrambled military jets in response to Chinese military aircraft flying over the Senkaku Islands (referred to as the Diaoyu Islands in China), located in the East China Sea. A spokesmen for the Japanese Ministry of Defense acknowledged that the three Chinese planes (one Y-8 reconnaissance plane and two H-6 bomber planes) “…flew above public seas, and there was no violation of our airspace.” Nonetheless, this particular situation has prompted United States and Japanese military officials to meet in Hawaii this week for the first time in 17 years to go over bilateral defense guidelines.
The dispute between China and Japan over the Senkaku Islands is one which has deep historical roots. Japan claims that it owns the islands because back in the 19th century, it surveyed the islands and incorporated them into its territory as part of the Nansei Shoto Islands. Following the end of World War II, the United States gained trusteeship over the islands as a result of the 1951 Treaty of San Francisco. However, the Nansei Shoto Islands were returned in 1971 as a result of a deal known as the Okinawa reversion deal. Since then it has continued to be Japan and the Senkaku Islands, not China and the Diaoyu Islands; a matter of fact that surely contributed significantly to Japan’s military jets being scrambled over the islands.
On the other hand, China claims that the Diaoyu Islands have belonged to it since ancient times and that such a claim can be “fully proven by history and is legally well-founded”, at least according to China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs. China insists that along with Taiwan, the islands should have been returned. To make matters worse, in April 2012, the Japanese government announced it would use public money to purchase three of the islands from the Japanese private owner.
Regardless of whose claims are truer, Japan controls the islands right now and China still is not at all happy about it. Tensions have increased between the two countries since 2012 and in November of 2013, China went so far as to announce its creation of an air-defense identification zone which extend to the airspace above the islands. To further complicate things, the United States has an obligation to side with Japan per an agreement reached after World War II. The deal allowed the United States to have military bases in Japan in exchange for its word to defend Japan if it is ever attacked. The United States has made it abundantly clear that it does not want to get roped into a conflict with China, but it may not have a choice if push comes to shove by virtue of its agreements with Japan.
The outcome of this dispute is unclear, but what is clear is that, in the wake of Japan scrambling military jets over the islands, these tensions appear to be increasing, especially with China’s recent, stern rhetoric on the dispute from Foreign Minister, Wang Yi, during a press conference. Yi’s words on the topic included how China will remain uncompromising regarding historical and territorial disputes and furthermore, how they will not be bullied by smaller countries, such as Japan. This attitude combined with China’s continued quest for a larger and greater military will certainly not alleviate any aspect of this situation for itself nor for the United States, Japan and the Senkaku Islands.
By Taylor Schlacter