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Asia's Game of Thrones
China Steps Up the Pressure on Japan

An armed Chinese navy ship, alongside two other ships, today sailed into waters claimed by Japan—the first such encroachment. Bloomberg:

The three vessels approached waters north of Kuba Island from around 8:19 a.m. local time, entering Japanese territorial waters starting from 9:30 a.m. and left by 10:50 a.m., according to e-mailed coast guard statements. The armed vessel was the same one that the coast guard reported on Dec. 22 was sailing in waters 28 kilometers (17 miles) east-north-east of one of the islands, according to a coast guard official, who asked not to be named, citing government policy.

Kuba Island is among East China Sea islands whose sovereignty is disputed by Japan and China. Ships from both nations have been tailing one another in the area since Japan bought three of the uninhabited islands from a private owner in 2012. The dispute is among the biggest diplomatic issues between the two nations. The islands are known as Senkaku in Japanese and Diaoyu in Chinese

Among the world’s top powers, the Japan-China rivalry has the most potential to launch a major war. But until this incident, there was relative quiet in this dispute. China had been calming the waters, smoothing over tensions in its relationship with Japan. If Beijing is now going to raise the stakes in the standoff over small islands, 2016 could see Asian tensions hit new highs. More aggressive Chinese policy in the East China Sea would be an ominous sign for the new year, indeed.

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  • iconoclast

    The recent craven ‘apology’ by the Obama Pentagon certainly encouraged the Chinese to moderate their aggression, right?

  • Jacksonian_Libertarian

    The Belligerent Chinese “Actions” have been escalating unabated for years now, while from time to time their “Words” have been deceptively of peaceful coexistence. This means the wise person will ignore what the Chinese are saying, and watch carefully what the Chinese are doing. Actions speak louder than Words.

  • gabrielsyme

    Let us all be glad there is no Erdogan in charge of Japan – Erdogan shoots down a plane after a 17-second, almost certainly unplanned overflight. Who knows what such a character would have done in response to an hour-and-a-half-long pre-planned incursion?

  • Jim__L

    So to be fair, how does this differ from the US’ showing the flag around other contested islands? Do they have a “tu quoque” defense?

    • John Pryce

      Those islands are not in what are internationally-recognized Chinese territorial waters. Whereas these islands are in recognized Japanese territorial waters. The Chinese claims are hotly disputed, the Japanese claims are not.
      Hence the distinction.

      • submandave

        A greater distinction is that China is not building on “islands” but on “reefs”. The basic distinction is that an island is above water all the time while a reef is submerged at least part of the time. This is significant because by international law and long-standing convention an island established both a territorial claim and economic claim on the surrounding waters, while a reef, as uninhabitable, does not. There is no basis or precedent for China’s claims of establishing territorial waters around their constructions.

      • Jim__L

        I could sell them some islands… =D

        • John Pryce

          I do wonder who exactly they bought the islands from.

  • submandave

    I think 2016 holds more potential for Chinese aggression as they may perceive their opportunity to make significant gains to be narrowing as the Obama administration wanes and they bet that he will be unwilling to risk his legacy on direct confrontation.

    • Rick Caird

      That is absolutely correct. The only people who fear Obama are our allies and they fear he will leave them hanging.

  • Terenc Blakely

    The problem with China is an ego problem. China, rightly or wrongly, has perceived itself as the center of the world for many millennia hence the name “Middle Kingdom”. While being at the top for much of its history the past couple of centuries have been brutal for China, basically going from the top of the heap to the bottom. Now that they are finally getting their act together they want some payback. Much of that payback is just having other countries deferring to them as they often did centuries ago. But that isn’t all, the Chinese would dearly love to have a ‘manageable’ war kicking someone’s ass as the final step in proving that they are back in full glory.

    The key is a ‘manageable’ war. Most Chinese know that there is no way in hell that they could beat the US but ego sometimes takes over from intellect and that is a dangerous possibility and then the US have never really been an enemy of China until the commies took over and often helped China. Japan however is a different story. The Japanese were incredibly brutal toward the Chinese before and during WWII and the Japanese unlike the Germans never have done a full mea culpa. In fact the Japanese either ignore responsibility for what they did, claim that the atrocities didn’t happen or most often just pretend that whole period of their history never existed. And then there are the claims that the Japanese were the victims in WWII. Needless to say that attitude infuriates much of Asia and especially the Chinese. Because of all of that the Chinese would dearly love to kick some Japanese ass and embarrass them. The problem is that the Japanese has a quality military and is under the protection of the US. But again there is that ego overriding the intellect and it is far more likely to happen against the Japanese. Plus the Chinese leaders aren’t afraid of ‘wagging the dog’ to distract from domestic issues.

    Interesting times as they say.

    • John Pryce

      “The problem with China is an ego problem.”
      I’m not disagreeing, but as an American that’s a really ironic thing to hear anyone say.

      • Terenc Blakely

        Actually, Americans have far less ego than most assume. Americans are far more likely to examine their history and culture in a negative light that others view their own history and culture. You’ve just bought into anti-American propaganda designed to soothe bruised egos.

        • John Pryce

          I already said I don’t disagree, I was just remarking on the irony of the statement. I agree: self-criticism as a cultural obligation is almost an exclusively Western phenomenon, and one most Americans agree with.

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