China deployed its first fleet of nuclear submarines on Monday, October 28th, as images of the fleet were officially released to the public. This comes at a time when relations between Japan and China are rapidly deteriorating and both nations are increasing their militaristic presence in their neighboring maritime region.
According to the Financial Times, The official Chinese state news agency Xinhua announced that the fleet was being declassified, stating the submarines would “gallop to the depths of the ocean, serving as mysterious forces igniting the sound of thunder in the deep sea,” and be an “assassin’s mace that would make adversaries tremble.”
On Sunday, the 27th, Japan scrambled jets in response to Chinese military aircraft also flying through the region. A Chinese reconnaissance plane was reportedly seen just outside the airspace of the Okinawa islands on Friday, and Japan responded with a demonstration of military presence.
This happened as reports from a Japanese military review hit the press. According to Reuters, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe had recently told an annual troops review “In order to show our firm national intention that changing the status quo by force will not be tolerated, we need to carry out various activities such as surveillance and information gathering… Post World War II, we have prospered and moved forward as a peaceful nation. This is something for us to be very proud of. However, in order for us to continue protecting this peace into the future, we must be vigilant.”
Tensions continued to mount as Japanese fighters were scrambled for three days following, sending a clear message to Beijing that Japan will maintain an active, armed and ready stance. This prompted another active response from China, then flying an unmanned drone near the Senkaku islands. The Japanese government in turn threatened to shoot down any aircraft it considers to be in violation of its airspace.
China has been increasing its military spending and presence in the South and East China Seas, as Japan has more routinely performed military exercises. Prime Minister Abe openly hopes to change Japan’s peace keeping, post-World War II constitution to allow for a more aggressive posture.
In the East China Sea, China and Japan are contending over a cluster of small, uninhabited islands called the Diaoyu by the Chinese and the Senkaku by the Japanese. Tensions have been high between China and Japan since September 2012, when the Japanese bought three islands that China claims as part of its sovereign territory. Japan has administered the islands since the end of World War II, but China, Taiwan and Japan all claim them for their own historical territories.
In the South China Sea, meanwhile, tensions have developed over several island groups. China, Taiwan and Vietnam claim all of these islands, and Brunei, Malaysia, and the Philippines claim some of them as well. These underwater regions are resource rich and plentiful with marine life. Disputes have resulted in much controversy between Chinese and Japanese fishing boats, coast guard and military vessels. Trade blockades have been used in the past by both the Japanese and China to place pressure on one another.
Both countries claim that they want peace and that the other is the antagonist in the situation, yet both have escalated a militaristic show of force in the region. Maritime vessels have been accused of lock-on targeting toward one another and fighter jets have been continually scrambled for interception by both nations.
Despite these occurrences and fiery rhetoric from both sides, there has not been an act of direct military aggression as of yet. However, many geopolitical experts express concern that these tenuous relations and demonstrations could escalate into an unintended conflict that could result in conditions for war.
Vice President Joe Biden is meeting with Japan, China and South Korea this week to discuss the United States future policies for cooperation with Asian countries.
Meanwhile, according to Reuters, Japan and Russia have engaged in cooperative talks for increasing security measures as they “warily watch neighboring China’s influence…”
On Saturday, the two sides agreed to hold naval exercises to combat terrorism and piracy and to deepen their cooperation in regional security and diplomatic forums.