|A Japanese surveillance aircraft flies by the Senkakus|
Although the sovereignty dispute between China, Japan and Taiwan over the Senkaku/Diaoyutai Islands in the East China Sea has always had its military component, from the 1970s onwards the three sides generally refrained from engaging in behavior that risked exacerbating tensions to the point where armed clashes could occur.
Recent developments, however, indicate that this self-restraint might be over, and that the conflict may be about to enter a new — and possibly far more perilous — phase.
Without any of the underlying causes of the conflict having been resolved, the two principal claimants, Japan and China, seem to have concluded that the time has come to move beyond political rhetoric and to take action, something hardliners on both sides have been requesting for years. (Although a claimant, Taiwan’s role remains marginal and relatively non-threatening to Japan and China; Taipei has also made it clear, despite claims in Chinese media, that it will not side with China in the dispute. One reason is that military-to-military relations between Taipei and Tokyo, though not publicized, remain stable, and both sides have no interest in seeing that changed.)
Negotiations and half-hearted attempts to set aside political disputes and jointly develop the area, with its large, albeit unproven, oil and natural gas reserves, having stalled, we are now witnessing a rapid militarization of the conflict, which could have serious implications for regional security.
My article, published today in The Diplomat, continues here.