Escalation: Naval brinksmanship rising between China and U.S. allies

The big security picture in Asia involves changing deterrence and war-fighting strategies by China, the US and Japan. These involve expanded maritime patrols and intelligence-gathering, making more chances for close-range encounters. Meanwhile, nationalism and growing resource needs are reinforcing the value of territorial claims in the East China Sea, disputed by Japan and China, as well as the South China Sea.

Short-sighted internal rivalries compound the risks of conflict. In China, the generals are becoming a force in foreign policy. Some zealous officers may be provoking incidents at sea to advance their careers and prove their patriotism. And sometimes the hardliners are not military: China’s fisheries and maritime law-enforcement agencies seem to be running their own expansive agendas.

For now, the risk of a major-power war escalating from maritime incidents centres on China’s frictions with the US, Japan and other nations in East Asia.

But the tensions could reach across the wider Indo-Pacific region as the power and interests of China and India expand.

The region is ill-prepared to cope with this threat.