As China’s military power continues to dramatically expand, the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) and the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) have been increasingly bullying and threatening a host of its neighbors. In addition to India and Taiwan, China has created territorial disputes with four of the 10 members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations: Malaysia, the Philippines, Vietnam, and Brunei.
But now it has also been increasing its conflicts with Japan over the Senkaku Islands in the past months. After announcing a new policy to allow its paramilitary Coast Guard to fire on foreign ships in what it calls its territorial waters, China has ramped up its patrols around the Senkakus in the East China Sea.
The mostly uninhabited islands belong to Japan but are claimed by China.
The South China Morning Post (SCMP) reported that a “Japanese official said Tokyo was alarmed by the Chinese activities and was considering its response.” It added that according to the Japan Coast Guard, “The frequency of Chinese coastguard vessels entering the waters has risen from twice a month last year to twice a week in February.”
Last month Japan lodged a formal protest with China after two Chinese warships entered Japanese coastal waters near the Senkaku Islands, but now Japan is considering a stronger, possibly military response. SCMP quoted a Japanese official as saying:
Under our domestic law, the self-defense forces can use weapons as law enforcement against unlawful activities on behalf of our coastguard if the Chinese coastguard enters our territorial waters including surrounding the Senkaku Islands without permission.
This statement implies Japan is preparing to send military forces to back up its own coast guard against further Chinese incursions around the islands. Still, the SCMP wrote that the Japanese official stressed that Japan didn’t intend to escalate the situation but would increase pressure on China diplomatically with backing from allies such as the U.S., Britain, and Canada.
The U.S. Navy has been increasingly active in joint training and operations with the Japanese Navy, and the British Royal Navy is now sending its new flagship aircraft carrier the HMS Queen Elizabeth to the Pacific, including the contested South China Sea.
In January, a Royal Canadian Navy corvette joined in exercises with the US, Australian, and Japanese navies in the East China Sea after transiting the Taiwan Strait in its own version of Freedom of Navigation Operations (FONOPS) and in a show of solidarity with Taiwan. What additional naval forces Japan plans to deploy the islands is yet to be seen.