East China Sea Armed Confrontation

East China Sea Armed Confrontation

An armed confrontation in the East China Sea between China and Japan stemming from tensions over the Senkaku/Diaoyu Islands


Relations between China and Japan over competing claims to the Senkaku/Diaoyu Islands in the East China Sea continue to be strained. Since Japan purchased three of the islands from their private owners in September 2012, China has expressed its determination to assert administrative control over them, most recently by declaring the establishment of an “air defense identification zone” in the East China Sea. Chinese and Japanese naval and air patrol vessels continue to operate closely in the area, making the risk of miscalculation leading to an armed confrontation a real danger.

In April 2014, President Obama became the first incumbent president to state explicitly that the disputed islands are covered by the U.S.-Japan Security Treaty, although the United States takes no formal position on their ultimate sovereignty. An accidental military incident or political miscalculation by China or Japan could embroil the United States in armed hostilities with China.

Rising nationalist sentiments and growing political mistrust heighten the potential for conflict and hinders the capacity for peaceful resolution of the dispute. Though Chinese and Japanese leaders have refrained from forcibly establishing control over the Senkaku/Diaoyu Islands, unauthorized action by local commanders could result in the unintended escalation of hostilities.

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