Two weeks ago we detailed the latest flare-up in maritime tensions between Japan and China after Chinese ships intruded into the Japanese-claimed Senkaku Islands area in disputed East China Sea waters, staying for a record amount of time according to Japan’s Defense Minister, who previously called the situation “intolerable”.
The stakes have now been raised as of early this week given the head of US forces in Japan has said the Pentagon could send American troops to defend the Senkaku Islands from future Chinese aggression.
“Our arrival today was simply to demonstrate the ability to move a few people but the same capability could be used to deploy combat troops to defend the Senkaku Islands or respond to other crisis and contingencies,” Lt. Gen. Kevin Schneider said on Monday.
He further went through a list of “malign activities” by Beijing in the region during his briefing from the deck of a Japanese destroyer.
The occasion was the commencement of Keen Sword 21, a major ten day joint annual exercises between the US and Japanese navies. It involves almost ten thousand US troops and some 37,000 Japanese troops along with 170 aircraft and 20 ships, according to international reports.
Here’s how Japanese media presented US commander Schneider’s provocative remarks:
Schneider said the countries’ ability to transport personnel “can and could be used to deliver combat troops to defend the Senkakus.”
Officials from Japan’s Defense Ministry view his remarks as a warning to China, which has been stepping up its activities in waters near the Senkaku Islands.
China refers to the Senkaku islands as Diaoyu – which Beijing claims as its own. Local reports suggest the crisis of two weeks ago was finally resolved when Chinese Coast Guard ships left of their own accord.
The incident was widely described as the longest breach of Japan’s waters in almost a decade.
TODAY: @INDOPACOM and units from the Japan Maritime Self-Defense Force began exercise Keen Sword 21, designed to enhance 🇯🇵 🇺🇸 combat readiness and interoperability while strengthening bilateral relationships and a #FreeAndOpenIndoPacific.
— U.S. Navy (@USNavy) October 26, 2020
It doesn’t appear either side plans to budge:
Tensions over the uninhabited rocky chain, 1,200 miles (1,900 kilometers) southwest of Tokyo, have simmered for years, and with claims over them dating back centuries, neither Japan nor China is likely to back down.
Chinese vessels have been spending record amounts of time in the waters around the islands this year, drawing condemnation from Tokyo.
Recall that any potential military confrontation between Japan and China in the Senkakus could theoretically draw in the US given the mutual defense treaty between Washington and Tokyo.