The East China Sea Is Turning Tense
21 September, 2012
With the deployment of Japanese and Chinese paramilitary patrol ships the East China Sea is turning tense. At the same time, South Korea's navy fired warning shots Friday toward North Korean fishing boats.
A Reuters report  from Hong Kong said:
The dispute between China and Japan over desolate rocky islets, known as Diaoyu in China and Senkaku in Japan, in the East China Sea has taken a familiar turn with Beijing deploying a fleet of paramilitary patrol ships while similar Japanese vessels steam out in response.
For both sides, the presence of lightly armed paramilitary ships reduces the risk of conflict, maritime experts say.
The U.S. assistant secretary of state for East Asia, Kurt Campbell, said on Thursday the disputed islands were "clearly" covered by a 1960 treaty obliging the United States to come to Japan's aid if attacked.
"I actually don't think the two sides intend to fight a war over the islands this time," said Sun Yun, an expert on Chinese security policy at the Washington-based Stimson Centre.
"But, I do think it is more dangerous because the current round of tension is more emotionally charged than the earlier stand-offs in the South China Sea."
Politics may well keep the row simmering in the months ahead with a Japanese election expected by year's end and China preparing a leadership transition.
While China's maritime rise has captured global attention, Japan has also been quietly and unobtrusively building a powerful navy boasting some of the most advanced military technologies afloat.
It is not clear that China's navy could overpower Japanese forces as easily as it might expect to prevail against militarily weaker rivals in the South China Sea.
In raw numbers, China is now the world's second-ranked naval power behind the US with a fleet including about 80 major warships, 53 submarines, 50 landing ships and 86 missile patrol boats.
With a combination of Russian and homegrown hardware, it has deployed multi-ship fleets through the Japanese island chain and out into the Pacific Ocean for exercises and training. Its ships have taken part in international anti-piracy operations in the Indian Ocean. It has a fleet of advanced conventional submarines.
Japan's Maritime Self Defense Force is clearly smaller with about 48 major warships and 16 submarines but it remains a formidable force compared with other traditional naval powers.
It has twice as many surface warships as Britain's Royal Navy and twice as many submarines as the French navy.
Some of its key surface warships are equipped with the advanced U.S. Aegis combat system that combines computers, radars and information from other ships, satellites or aircraft to track multiple targets and guide attacking missiles.
Japan's conventional submarines are also regarded as some of the most advanced and stealthiest in the world.
Naval experts say the Japanese navy is also a highly trained professional force that has exercised for decades in its major roles of sea lane protection and anti-submarine warfare. It has also trained regularly with U.S. forces.
If a clash took place in the area of the disputed islands between the Japanese island of Okinawa and Taiwan, both sides could deploy land-based strike aircraft to support their forces.
"I don't think the U.S. could stand aside," said Ross Babbage, a security analyst and former senior Australian defense official. "There would be a huge international crisis and I'm not expecting that."
"And, I don't think either side really wants it."
From Seoul AP reported :
South Korea's navy fired warning shots Friday toward six North Korean fishing boats that crossed a disputed maritime boundary, but the shots didn't hit the fishing boats and the vessels retreated, a South Korean official said.
Fishing boats routinely jostle for position in the seafood-rich Yellow Sea waters claimed by both countries.
No North Korean navy ships were involved in Friday's incident, an official with South Korea's Joint Chiefs of Staff said, speaking anonymously because of office policy.
The Korean War ended nearly 60 years ago with a truce, not with a peace treaty, so the U.S.-led U.N. Command divided the Yellow Sea without Pyongyang's consent. The boundary favored South Korea, cutting North Korea off from rich fishing waters and boxing in one of its crucial deep-water ports. North Korea has bitterly contested the line ever since.
Pyongyang argues the line should run farther south.
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