Brink looms closer in East Asia maritime theaters

South China Sea

A new report published by the US-based Project 2049 Institute says that it is "a matter of time" before the People’s Republic of China launches a "short, sharp war" to take the disputed Senkaku Islands in the East China Sea—claimed by China as the Diaoyu Islands, but currently controlled by Japan. The report is entitled "White Warships and Little Blue Men" (PDF)—a reference to China's Coast Guard and Maritime Militia, both of which have seen a dramatic build-up in the past decade, along with the rapid modernization and expansion of the naval forces of the People's Liberation Army. We are not sure we share the assessment that the conflict will be "limited yet decisive," in the paraphrase of Epoch Times

MainichiPTI and Reuters report this week that Japan has activated its first amphibious marine unit since World War II. Some 1,500 members of the Amphibious Rapid Deployment Brigade held a mock public exercise in which they acted out the recapture of "a remote island" from invaders, following a ceremony at a military base near Sasebo, outside Nagasaki. The brigade, expected to eventually grow into a 3,000-member force, is the latest component of a growing Japanese marine force that includes helicopter carriers, amphibious ships, Osprey tilt-rotor troop carriers and amphibious assault vehicles. The ARDB exercise came days after three Chinese Coast Guard vessels temporarily entered Japan's claimed territorial waters near the Senkaku Islands—the seventh such incursion this year. (NHK)

Meanwhile, the USS Theodore Roosevelt aircraft carrier, with a group of Philippine generals onboard, entered disputed waters in the South China Sea, where China is building military defenses on islands claimed by the Philippines and Vietnam. Another carrier, the USS Carl Vinson, patrolled the contested waters last month, taking part in anti-submarine drills with Japanese forces and visiting Vietnam with its 5,000-strong crew—the largest such US military presence there since the Vietnam War ended in 1975.

Tensions have de-escalated somewhat since Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte visited Beijing and raised the issue with Chinese President Xi Jinping in 2016. Since then, China also allowed Philippine fishing fleets back into disputed Scarborough Shoal.

But from a long-term perspective, the dangers are growing. Philippine ambassador to Beijing, Chito Sta. Romana, recently warned that the risks of a miscalculation and armed conflict have risen in the disputed region with a militarily stronger China now able to challenge the US. Sta. Romana compared the two powers to elephants fighting and trampling on the grass and said, "What we don't want is for us to be the grass." (AP via Stars & Stripes)

Map via IDSA