THE Senkaku Islands are tiny rocky spurs, part of a scattering of islands between the northern tip of Taiwan and the Japanese home islands. They are rapidly turning into a flashpoint for war.
Beijing claims the islands as part of its historical inheritance — as it does neighbouring Taiwan, despite failing to seize the protectorate during the Chinese Civil War.
Taiwan, however, was a Japanese protectorate before World War II.
It’s a messy historical scenario, thought resolved through United Nations conventions and treaties established after the conflict.
But ongoing aggressive incursions by Chinese fishing boats — organised as a state militia — and a freshly militarised coast guard has seen tensions in the East China Sea flare.
Now, Japan and the United States are drawing up battle plans to enable their forces to fight together against any Chinese incursion. And their forces are engaged in their biggest combined war games, practising to do just that.
The biggest war games ever conducted around Japan are underway, demonstrating the interoperability of Japanese Self Defence Forces with those of the US and Canada. The nuclear powered aircraft carrier USS Ronald Reagan is the centrepiece of the Keen Sword exercise which has mobilised more than 57,000 soldiers, sailors and air force personnel.
The Japan Times reports government sources as saying discussions are well underway to establish a joint response to any “emergency” on or around the uninhabited Senkaku Islands, which China calls Diaoyu.
China’s navy is undergoing an explosive expansion and modernisation program. Beijing has all but consolidated its arbitrary claims over the South China Sea through its aggressive artificial island fortress building campaign. It’s navy and air force are venturing ever deeper into the Pacific and Indian Oceans.
So, the 2015 Bilateral Planning Mechanism agreement between the United States and Japan is upping the ante. It was established to “conduct bilateral operations to counter ground attacks against Japan by ground, air, maritime, or amphibious forces”.
The operational procedures for defending the Senkaku Islands will be completed by March.
The United States is already bound by treaty to defend Japan in the event of an attack. And US President Trump has recently said this treaty includes Japan’s claims to the Senkaku Islands — despite previous US government assertions it wanted no part in the East China Sea sovereignty dispute.
The full extent of Beijing’s assertiveness has been revealed in freshly released footage and accounts of a near-collision between US and Chinese destroyers in the South China Sea.
The South China Morning Post reports a Chinese warship involved in a close encounter had warned the US Navy vessel wouls “suffer consequences” if it did not divert out of the contested waterway.
The UN convention of the sea does not recognise soverignty being established through artificial islands. And and an international tribunal has rejected as groundless Beijing’s claims to have historical ownership of the entire South China Sea.
“To my knowledge, this is the first time we’ve had a direct threat to an American warship with that kind of language,” Chatham House international affairs analyst Bill Hayton told the Hong-Kong based news service.
“The Chinese Luyang destroyer issued the stern verbal message to the USS Decatur before sailing within 45 yards of the vessel in the September 30 incident,” the Post reports.
It says it has obtained a timeline of the incident from Britain’s Ministry of Defence.
“You are on dangerous course … If you don’t change course your will suffer consequences,” a Chinese officer warned.
“This, I think, is the first time we’ve had the idea of ‘suffering consequences’. So that does seem to be an increased level of intimidation,” Mr Hayton says.
On the freshly released footage, a US sailor is heard saying the Chinese warship was “trying to push us out of the way”.
The US warship’s captain rejected the grounds for the challenge.
“We are conducting innocent passage,” the USS Decatur responded, shortly before the Chinese warship cut across its bows – forcing the US ship to dodge a collision.
Beijing stated the destroyer Luyang “took quick action and made checks against the US vessel in accordance with the law, and warned it to leave the waters”.
The Post reports professor Ni Lexiong of the Shanghai University of Political Science and Law as saying “The US keeps testing our bottom line by sailing within 12 nautical miles … So by sailing close to their ship we show that we are ready.”…
Keen Sword “remains an expression of the commitment of like-minded allies and partners. To really see what we can do in terms of demonstrating advanced capabilities together to ensure peace and stability in the Indo Pacific,” the Chief of US Naval Operations Admiral John Richardson told a news briefing.
He added the US would continue its freedom of navigation operations in the South and East China Seas to highlight its opposition to “illegitimate maritime claims”.