China has made yet another move which is ratcheting up the tension in that part of the world and is catching the attention of the United States Department of Defense. But instead of causing additional conflict with the US, this one is aggravating old problems with their neighbors in Japan. It involves some tiny spots of land in the middle of the ocean which I recently had to go read up on to even begin to grasp what was going on here. The crux of the story is that the Chinese have expanded their “air defense map” to include the disputed Diaoyu Islands in the East China Sea.
Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel said Saturday the United States is “deeply concerned” over China’s move to establish an air defense zone over a string of disputed islands in the East China Sea.
“We view this development as a destabilizing attempt to alter the status quo in the region,” Hagel said in a statement. “This unilateral action increases the risk of misunderstanding and miscalculations.”
The Associated Press reports that the Chinese Defense Ministry issued a map showing the new East China Sea Air Defense Identification Zone, which encompasses what the Chinese call the Diaoyu islands.
Calling these islands “disputed” doesn’t really do the situation justice. We can’t even agree on the name of these desolate pieces of rock. The Chinese call them Diaoyu. The Japanese (who also claim them and supposedly bought them through private sale recently) call them the Senkaku Islands. Just to add more spice to the stew, Taiwan also claims ownership and calls them the Tiaoyutai Islands. In English they’re known as the Pinnacle Isles. Heck, the United States even briefly owned them after the surrender of Japan in WW2 and we still use one of them as a bombing range.
The islands are deserted, with three of the eight of them being nothing more than bald lumps of rock sticking out of the ocean. The Japanese have claimed primary rights over them for most of the modern era and they tried operating a fish processing center there in the early part of the last century, but it failed and the place has been deserted for more than 70 years. Really, unless you have an unhealthy fascination with migratory birds or a few starving sheep, one wonders why anyone would even care about them. Except, of course, for the fact that somebody determined that there might be oil offshore of them back in the seventies.
So now China is essentially claiming that the islands are part of their country. Given their view of Taiwan’s status, they don’t factor into it. Japan doesn’t recognize the government of Taiwan, but we do. And of course, Japan claims they own the rocks outright. It’s all a complicated mess which probably would never have come up if it weren’t for the oil or the fact that any time a piece of volcanic ash peeks above the waves for more than five minutes, somebody has to stick a flag on it. But it’s still worth watching since it may continue to raise the temperature of the already problematic relationship between China and Japan, along with the latter’s recent interest in stepping up their military capabilities after seventy years of letting us worry about it.
On an only possibly, tangentially related front, are the Chinese expanding their capabilities in the air for the 21st century? By some amazing coincidence I’m sure, their new weaponized drone looks exactly like one of ours. What are the odds? Check out the video.
Shocking, I know.