Recently Japan flew fighter jets over the disputed Senkakuislands (as they are named by Japan) in the East China Sea, leading to raisedconcerns in China, which remains ‘highly vigilant’ of further Japanese move.Both the countries have been involved in such confrontations and flying fighterplanes over the disputed territory as means of escalation of tensions, which makesthe whole issue potentially explosive.
Japanese Foreign Ministry has acknowledged scrambling F-15jets on several occasions to intercept Chinese surveillance planes that theyconsidered breaching Japanese air space. China, on the other hand, has repliedthat the planes were on a regular patrol in undisputed Chinese airspace.
Clearly, both sides consider the disputed territory in theEast China Sea, called Senkaku in Japan and Diaoyu islands in China, as theirown. Therefore, both the sides are claiming violation of their sovereignairspace by the other and can take action against each other permissible tohistorical norms and consensus.
On December 13, 2012, a Chinese Y-12 twin turboprop aircraftconducted air patrol in what the Japanese claimed a breach of their airspace.Japan responded by scrambling eight F-15 fighters and asking the Chineseaircraft to vacate ‘Japanese airspace’. In reply they were told by the Chinesethat it was them who were violating ‘Chinese airspace’.
The situation in the East China Sea region was alreadyvolatile and incidents like this add fuel to fire. Japan had purchased three of the disputedislands last summer from a private owner, which led to violent anti-Japanprotests across China and escalated tensions between the two countries. Theprotest included calls for boycott of Japanese goods.
Japan has a new Prime Minister, Shinzo Abe, who is termed a‘hawkish politician’. He announced that Japan would not yield to any threatsover the sovereignty of its islands and would boost its defence spending tocounter any Chinese threats.
China, on the other hand, claims that the current Japanesemove was unreasonable, aimed at increasing pressure on an already tensesituation. China remains ‘highly vigilant’ over further Japanese move and addedthat Japan must bear responsibility for the consequences.
China has been trying to exert greater influence in the Asia-Pacificregion, which is being supplemented by strengthening of its military. It hasbeen engaged in coercive diplomacy in the region involving nations it hasterritorial disputes with. These include Brunei, Philippines, Malaysia, Taiwan,and Vietnam, who claim parts of the South China Sea.
The potentially explosive situation in the East China Seamight well be the result of carefully thought out Chinese strategy ofescalating the tensions and waiting for a Japanese response. Chinese patrolships have been continuously seen in the area around the disputed islands sinceSeptember 2012, claiming it to be Chinese territory.
This Chinese strategy of escalating confrontation was sureto evoke a reaction from the Japanese side which it did by deploying fighterplanes over the disputed territory.
Further, Japanese Defence Ministry has announced that with aview to strengthen its security over the Senkaku/Diaoyu islands, it would flyAmerican build unmanned drones – Global HawkUAVs - over its territory in the East China Sea in 2015.
This kind of confrontation between the two countries isfraught with the grave danger of escalating to a full-fledged war or armedaction against one another, especially with both the sides determined not tocompromise on their territorial sovereignty, which would lead to consequencesfor the entire region.