Tinderbox in the South China Sea: Japan vs. China
In the past three weeks, Japan and China have been facing off with public accusations and military escalations over the contested islands located in the South China Sea. Last week, Japan's naval forces were locked on by radar by Chinese naval ships. This seems minor but when a ship detects that an enemy radar has locked onto it, the next step is usually a missile being fired or hitting the ship. China did not fire anything. Earlier, in January, Chinese patrol planes were flying over the Senkaku islands, rocks that both countries claim. Japan considered it a violation of its national airspace and scrambled fighter jets fro Okinawa. This made China to send a a few jets to the islands where both countries "pretended" to dogfight in the air for a brief moment.
China also claims Scarborough Shoal, but this has always been part of the Philippines, and both countries have clashed over this. The same is true about the Spratly Islands. China refuses to abide by the 200 mile buffer of territorial waters and most of the islands fall into the zone and most contain large amounts of natural gas and oil to develop-something worth sparring over.
The problem is acerbated by the fact is the U.S. must defend Japan and Philippines, long allies with defense agreements. Also, there is no hotline for emergency consultations between high ranking officials between China and Japan. Should a clash occur, the fastest hotline between the two countries is presently a fax machine! Neither country has agreed to having a direct telephone line to use or to use English when communicating over military issues, something the U.S. has been trying to push for.
The Chinese seem adamant about what they own and have a right to, much like a person who now has stature and becomes a bully. As China becomes more dominant, one can see where this will all lead. The Chinese state that Japan is acting illegally over the Senkaku Islands and their press have rallied the anti-Japanese sentiment.
So far, both countries have sought to avoid pulling the trigger, but it will only take one miscalculation for it to happen.