Asia's Game of Thrones
China and Japan Up the Ante in Maritime Disputes

Things are heating up in both of China’s maritime disputes. First, Reuters reports that Chinese warships have completed combat exercises and weapons tests in the South China Sea:

Three Chinese warships on Friday wrapped up a week of scheduled training exercises in the South China Sea, state media said, shortly after China’s sole aircraft carrier tested its weapons in the disputed region.

The flotilla of warships, including a destroyer that can launch guided missiles, had been conducting drills since Friday last week and were now sailing to the eastern India Ocean and the Western Pacific, the official Xinhua News Agency said. […]

The drills were “without an arranged script” and “as close as possible to real combat”, military affairs expert Yin Zhuo told the state broadcaster China Central Television.

Meanwhile, in another disputed theater, Japan is speeding up a shipbuilding program to reinforce its claims in the East China Sea. Reuters:

Japan plans to accelerate a warship building program to make two frigates a year to patrol the fringes of the East China Sea, where it disputes island ownership with China, three people with knowledge of the plan said.

Japan previously was building one 5,000-ton class destroyer a year, but will now make two 3,000-ton class ships a year, beginning from the April 2018 fiscal year, the people said, declining to be identified as they are not authorized to talk to the media. […]

Senior Japanese military officials have said they are concerned that China may seek to increase its influence in the East China Sea around Japan’s southern Okinawa island chain.

The news about Japan’s accelerating shipbuilding comes shortly after Mattis’ trip to Tokyo and Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s state visit with Donald Trump. On both occasions, Japan received notice that the U.S. will continue to recognize the Senkaku Islands as Japanese territory and stand up to Beijing more aggressively. Such reassurances may have played into Tokyo’s decision to beef up its presence in the East China Sea.

In any case, a tougher posture toward China is long overdue; the Obama administration’s belated and infrequent patrols hardly deterred Chinese expansionism. The Trump administration appears to be setting the stage for more aggressive pushback—and the latest developments suggest that Beijing and Tokyo are taking note, and responding accordingly.

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