Tensions Increasing in the China Sea Region

China and Japan are once again ratcheting up tensions with tit-for-tat territorial claims. Let’s begin with China, who has implemented a new law ordering that vessels obtain permission from Chinese authorities before fishing or surveying in two thirds of the 1.5 million square mile South China Sea. The fishing grounds are used by Vietnam, the Philippines, Malaysia, Brunei, and several other countries in the region.

The Philippines and Vietnam condemned the move. The U.S. called the new restrictions “provocative and potentially dangerous.

As previously reported by Threat Journal on multiple occasions over the past year and a half (see this and this), China is flexing it’s muscles in order to seize and control the waters and airspace of a large chunk of the China Sea region, not only for the rich fishing grounds and sizeable untapped reserves of oil and natural gas in the area, but also because the country is now deploying nuclear armed ballistic missile submarines and aircraft carriers from bases on the mainland coast, as well as from locations on Hainan Island. As such, operational buffer space is needed.

Last June, China demanded the return of the Japanese Island of Okinawa.

Readers will recall that last November China angered numerous countries by declaring an air defense identification zone over the nearby East China Sea. The Pentagon in turn ordered two nuclear-capable B-52 bombers to fly through the zone in a challenge to the Chinese claims.

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Also last month, a U.S. Navy guided missile cruiser nearly collided with a Chinese warship in the South China Sea near Hainan island as the USS Cowpens monitored Chinese naval maneuvers.

Not to be outdone, this week the Japanese government announced they would nationalize 280 small islands whose ownership is unknown and that serve as markers for determining Japan’s territorial waters.

When considering these developments, readers should bear in mind the history of this region. While barely touched on in U.S. classrooms, there is a long-standing, visceral hatred between the Chinese and Japanese, much of which is due to atrocities of the Japanese military from the late 1800s with the first Sino-Japanese war, all the way through the end of World War II.

To this day Chinese schools at all levels teach this history. Movies by the hundreds have been produced over the years dealing with the topic, thousands of books written, monuments erected, museums built and everything in between. Bitter, anti-Japanese sentiment is very strong throughout China and is part of their modern culture, despite the bilateral economic ties.

Given the growing tensions, there is an increasing possibility of some type of military clash taking place in the future, be it a few weeks, a few months or a few years. Considering the close ties between the U.S. and Japan and other  countries in the region, it is no wonder the U.S. military is undertaking a massive shift and “rebalancing” of forces from the Middle East region to the Western Pacific.