A second territorial dispute in Asia could be more dangerous than the South China Sea

  • A territorial dispute between China and Japan in the East China Sea carries more risk of an international conflict than the South China Sea, according to Ryan Hass from Brooking’s
  • One big factor that increases the threat of conflict is repeated close encounters between Chinese and Japanese vessels, he said

Date: 12-21-2017
By: Nyshka Chandran

When it comes to territorial disputes in Asia, the South China Seatypically commands the bulk of

A Japanese Maritime Self-Defense Force flying over the disputed islets known as the Senkaku islands in Japan and Diaoyu islands in China, in the East China Sea.

attention. But the East China Sea, a lesser-known hotbed of tensions, might be more likely to trigger an international conflict.

“Despite the lower profile, the dispute in the East China Sea may carry greater risk of drawing the United States into conflict with China than the various disputes in the South China Sea,” Ryan Hass, David M. Rubenstein Fellow at Brooking’s foreign policy program, wrote in a note on Wednesday.

Both China and Japan lay claim to a set of islands in the East China Sea that cover around 81,000 square miles. Called Senkaku in Tokyo and Diaoyu in Beijing, the area is near major shipping routes and rich in energy reserves.

“There is greater risk of an unintended incident between Chinese and Japanese forces operating in the East China Sea,” Hass explained, citing “the frequency of close-in operations involving Chinese and Japanese assets, the absence of mature risk- reduction mechanisms, and the lack of consensus between Beijing and Tokyo on acceptable behavior.”

Japan is a close ally of the U.S so if a Chinese-Japanese conflict occurs, the world’s largest economy may have to step in given that it seeks to protect allies as well keep sea and air space open, Hass explained. If Beijing were to deny access to ships or planes which are operating in accordance with international law, that could also trigger a reaction from the White House, he added.