U.S. Vice-president Joe Biden arrived in Tokyo last Monday in an attempt to diplomatically assuage tensions between both China and Japan.
Relations have recently been further exacerbated after a scrambling of military aircraft by both sides. This precipitated a Chinese decision to declare an expansion of its defensive airspace over what the Japanese consider their own airspace.
Though the three-week trip through Asia had been initially set up for the purpose of strengthening economic ties between countries that conduct trade with the U.S., the new deterioration of relations between the two countries will most likely dominate the discussions between leadership throughout. Biden is scheduled to meet with Chinese President Xi Xinping later this week.
“I believe this latest incident underscores the need for agreement between China and Japan to establish crisis management and confidence-building measures to lower tensions,” Biden said in an interview with a Japanese newspaper the night of his arrival.
This change in circumstance follows China’s declaration of establishing what it calls an “air defense identification zone,” on the 23rd of November.
According to the New York Times, the Chinese Ministry of National Defense Col. Yang Yujun gave the announcement while simultaneously “releasing a map, geographic coordinates and rules that would authorize treating an area alongside the eastern coast as the air defense identification zone.”
“The objective is to defend national sovereignty and territorial and air security, as well as to maintain orderly aviation,” Colonel Yang said.
“China’s armed forces will take defensive emergency measures to respond to aircraft that do not cooperate in identification or refuse to follow orders,” said the rules issued by the ministry, which were made available on its website in both Chinese and English.
Shortly after, China’s air force dispatched it first planes to the region with the intention of enforcing the newly established rules.
Japanese Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga gave comment at a news conference, “The U.S. government has made it clear that it is deeply concerned about China’s establishment of the air defense identification zone, and that it will not accept China’s demands regarding operations in the zone.”
The Gaurdian has reported a U.S. Military deployment of two B-52 warplanes to the expanded air defense zone that following Tuesday (two days later), in defiance of China’s previous declaration.
“We have conducted operations in the area of the Senkakus. We have continued to follow our normal procedures, which include not filing flight plans, not radioing ahead and not registering our frequencies,” Pentagon spokesman Colonel Steve Warren said, using the Japanese name for the islands. There was no immediate Chinese response, Reuters reported.
U.S. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel remarked on the Chinese expansion, calling it a “destabilizing attempt to alter the status quo in the region.” He said that the U.S. would not change how it operates in the region.
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry also urged China “to exercise caution and show restraint, saying freedom of overflight was essential to stability and security in the Pacific,” According to Reuters.
“We urge China not to implement its threat to take action against aircraft that do not identify themselves or obey orders from Beijing,” he said in a statement. “We remain steadfastly committed to our allies and partners, and hope to see a more collaborative and less confrontational future in the Pacific.”
Though the U.S. Military has claimed it will not comply with China’s declared airspace expansion, it has suggested to any commercial airlines flying through that region to acknowledge the demands of China and report their flights to Chinese air controllers.
The claim to airspace is potentially problematic as Japan has scrambled its fighter jets at times to intercept Chinese aircraft, including drones. The new enforcement would prohibit any aircraft, commercial or military, to enter the airspace without first notifying Chinese authorities and being granted approval.
Prime Minister Shinzo Abe of Japan said the new defense zone “potentially escalated the dangers of accidental collisions between the Chinese military and the U.S. and Japanese counterparts.”
Officials and pundits from all nations involved, including the U.S. have expressed that these conditions could lead to a miscalculation. As a consequence, Japanese ally U.S. could possibly be dragged into a military conflict between the two nations.
The dispute between China and Japan began last year, after the Japanese government purchased some of the Senkaku islands from a private Japanese citizen. The islands, also claimed by China and named Diaoyu in Chinese, are perceived by the Chinese government to be their sovereign territory and do not recognize the Japanese ownership of the islands, though the Japanese have been administering the islands since post World War II.
Though the islands themselves are uninhabited and ostensibly barren, the maritime waters surrounding are rich with marine life, minerals and energy resources. As China continues to expand its naval presence in the region as the worlds 2nd largest economic superpower, the dispute is not thought to end with a capitulation from China.