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Tensions Rise Over East China Sea

by Mike Hoffman on January 24, 2014

Chinese AWACSThe aggressive rhetoric continues to rise in the dispute over the island chain in the East China Sea as China has said it will issue warnings to any “foreign planes” that enter the air defense zone China declared in the region.

It’s the latest move by the Chinese to flex their military muscle over a disputed island chain that China, Japan and the Philippines have laid claim to. The warnings were announced just days after the Chinese declared that they would do regular patrols of the island chains with civilian surveillance ships.

Both Beijing and Tokyo claim the islets, called Diaoyu in Chinese and Senkaku in Japanese. Many believe that a vast wealth of resources to include oil exist near the islets.

The top U.S. Navy commander in the region said he’s closely observed the back and forth between China and Japan, and he said Thursday that it has left him concerned.

“Well, I am concerned,” said Navy Adm. Samuel J. Locklear, head of U.S. Pacific Command. “Any time you have two large powers, two large economic powers, two large military powers that have a disagreement that they’re not talking to each other about, that has no clear diplomatic end state in sight, that the cost calculation can grow, because you will have — in this case, you just have primarily maritime security forces that are in and around those contested islands.”
Locklear said he worried that young officers assigned by China and Japan to the area will be making decisions that could set off a more serious exchange. Raised tensions have created an atmosphere where even small errors could have serious diplomatic consequences, Locklear warned.
 
I many cases, those are young — you know, young naval officers or young civilian mariners who are out there, going to — making those decisions,” Locklear said. “So we have to continue to encourage restraint.  We have to continue to encourage professionalism.  And we have to continue to hope that there will be diplomatic dialogue and a solution to this, because it’s not productive for the region and it — it needs to be ultimately resolved.”
The declaration of the warnings to foreign planes also happens to come on the same day the Chinese military formally acknowledge their early warning aircraft squadron. A state media website acknowledged that many have seen the AWACS aircraft flying near the disputed region.
When the Chinese first stood up the air defense zone, the U.S. responded by flying a B-52 directly through it without warning the Chinese. On Thursday, Locklear tried to describe his and PaCom’s response to China’s suprise announcement of the zone.
“I don’t think we were necessarily surprised by the ADIZ issue. I think that’s a mischaracterization,” Locklear said. “I think we were a little bit surprised by the way it was announced and the manner it was — you know, how fast it was sprung on — sprung on the region and the fact that it was an ADIZ that just kind of was directed at one central issue, not just the general defense of someone’s territorial air space.”
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