A frustrating dispute in the south Pacific has all of Southeast Asia on high alert as China has seemingly escalated the conflict by flying a military craft through international airspace near Chinese islands. Reuters reports the Chinese plane was a Y-8 early warning craft, and flew over the islands of Okinawa and Miyako around noon, repeating its route over the East China Sea.
Reuters also quotes the Japanese defense minister Itsunori Onodera as saying to reporters, “I believe this indicates China’s move toward further maritime expansion.”
This is hardly the first time the Japanese have readied the guns in advance of a preemptive strike, presumably by the Chinese. In fact, this is hardly the first time this month.
Tensions over the Diaoyu Islands, also referred to as the Senkaku Islands, have been palpable since last September when Japanese private owners sold three islands to their home country. The islands were purchased officially by the governor of Tokyo, Shintaro Ishihara, who used public money to make the transaction and made his wishes clear in April 2012.
China, immediately feeling provoked by the action, saw protests before sending its ships to trawl what Japan claims are its watery territories. Japan’s newly-elected prime minister, Shinzo Abe, pledged a tough stance that included open dialogue. China responded by pledging to perform a geological survey in January 2013. It would not be long before more allegations emerged: the Japanese had claimed that the Chinese military had placed a weapons lock on two of its own ships, which it vehemently denied.
The issues regarding sovereignty over these 8 tiny islands are complicated indeed; the Japanese, Chinese, and even Taiwan all have directly competing claims for the territory, and for the moment, there seems to be no easy resolution. For the moment, those of us in the western hemisphere can do little more than sit on our hands, count our stocks and bonds, and hope the Asian markets hold solid despite the frustrations emanating from the Diaoyu Islands.