Territorial disputes are gradually pushing the Asia-Pacific region to the start of a serious regional conflict. China challenged Japan and South Korea, irritating their US ally. Beijing’s unilateral decision to expand the air defense zone in the East China Sea, including the disputed territories that Tokyo and Seoul consider to be theirs, could become a classic cause for the outbreak of war in the future. Both China and Japan have declared their readiness to protect their airspace. The United States immediately announced its readiness to fulfill allied obligations to Japan.
The region is drifting more and more towards serious regional conflicts. Almost all the countries of the Asia-Pacific region are conducting an arms race, especially naval and air, which is related to the specifics of the region. Especially recently, the conflict between China and Japan has intensified. Old historical enemies have not forgotten past grievances. The global systemic crisis is pushing them toward the traditional solution to such conflicts. In the long run, the Pacific Ocean can again become the scene of fierce sea and air battles, bloody landing operations.
It all started with the fact that Beijing unilaterally changed the status of the disputed territories. This was reported by the official news agency of the Government of the People’s Republic of China "Xinhua". Last weekend, the Ministry of Defense of China announced the creation of an identification zone of air defense in the East China Sea. Beijing now requires that all aircraft entering the air defense zone are required to provide in advance information identifying them and information about their route. In case of refusal, the Chinese reserve the right to apply "exceptional defensive measures." The air defense zone over the Japan-controlled Senkaku Islands (Diaoyu) was included in the new air defense zone. The Chinese air defense zone also seized space above the South Korean-owned Iodo submarine rock near Jeju Island. In addition, 25 in November, the Chinese side announced its intention to create similar zones in other areas in the future.
Naturally, the actions of the PRC immediately caused a sharp reaction from Japan and South Korea. The Senkaku Islands are the subject of a territorial dispute between Japan, the Republic of China (Taiwan) and the PRC. The islands were incorporated into the Japanese Empire in 1895. Prior to this, the Senkaku Islands were “no one’s land”, they were neither part of the island of Taiwan nor part of the Pescador Islands, which were ceded to the Japanese Empire of the Celestial Empire in accordance with the Treaty of Shimonoseki. Then Qing China was defeated by Japan and was forced to cede a number of territories. After the defeat of the Japanese Empire in World War II, Senkaku, along with some other territories, came under US jurisdiction. In 1970, the Americans returned Okinawa to the Japanese together with the Senkaku archipelago. At the start of the 1990, the Chinese government declared the islands to be the "original Chinese territory". According to Beijing, the archipelago should be returned to China in accordance with the provisions of the Cairo Declaration 1943 of the year, according to which Japan was deprived of the occupied territories. For the first time, China and Taiwan showed interest in the islands at the end of the 1960s - the beginning of the 1970s, when UN research showed the possibility of hydrocarbon reserves on the shelf of the East China Sea. Since then, Beijing and Taipei began to make the first statements about the "Chinese" affiliation of the islands.
The territorial conflict between the two great Asian powers escalated in 2012, when Japanese authorities announced the nationalization of the archipelago through its purchase from private owners. Beijing immediately voiced a sharp protest, a wave of anti-Japanese demonstrations and even pogroms swept across China. Since then, in the area of the islands, there have been regular incidents involving the appearance of ships and aircraft of the two countries. From that moment, Japan undertook a series of anti-Chinese actions: Tokyo announced its intention to create a special unit to protect disputed islands; the military budget was increased; the buildup of naval armaments continues; The military strategy was adjusted so as to strengthen the military component in the southern direction (previously, the main threat came from the north, from the USSR-Russia). In addition, Tokyo plans to abandon the restrictions imposed on military construction after the defeat in World War II, returning the offensive potential to the armed forces (Pacific Rim: The Awakening of the Samurai Spirit in Japan).
In China, semi-official claims began to appear on other Japanese territories. In particular, it was stated that the Ryukyu archipelago, the largest island of which is Okinawa, had been part of the Chinese empire since the 14th century. At the same time, Beijing began regularly sending its patrol ships and airplanes to the disputed territories, which caused an immediate reaction from Tokyo. So far there have been no military incidents, but in such a situation it is a matter of time. Only in the first half of 2013 of the year, about fifty cases occurred when Chinese ships entered the waters of the Senkaku Islands.
China’s decision to expand the air defense zone in the East China Sea, according to Japanese Foreign Minister Fumio Kisida, could have “irreversible consequences.” The head of the Japanese Foreign Ministry expressed a strong protest. Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, speaking in parliament on Monday, said that by trying to change the existing order of things, relying on force, Japan "will respond with all determination to defend its territorial waters and airspace." The meeting of the head of government and parliamentarians took place precisely in connection with the Chinese statement. The head of the Japanese Defense Ministry, Itsunori Onodera, also confirmed on Monday the state’s determination to protect its national interests. The minister called the situation “dangerous” and “unpredictable,” and expressed willingness to take “tough measures” against violators of Japanese airspace.
The Chinese ambassador to Tokyo, Chen Yonghua, was summoned to the Japanese Foreign Ministry. Japan reiterated its strong protest against the actions of the PRC and demanded that the Chinese side declare the decision to create an air defense zone over the East China Sea null and void. The Chinese ambassador said both sides should avoid unforeseen situations. And this situation is quite possible. According to the US authorities, on Saturday, the Chinese Air Force began patrolling the disputed area. Towards the Chinese aircraft, among which were two early-detection aircraft, the Japanese interceptors have risen. In such a situation, the beginning of a regional conflict can be the “human factor”.
Seoul is also alarmed by Beijing’s actions. According to Seoul, the Chinese air defense zone intersects with the South Korean air defense zone in the area west of Jeju Island. China and South Korea also have a territorial dispute. Moreover, it is very original: the two powers do not even claim a tiny island, but the Iodo underwater rock (the Chinese name is Xu'ian). There is no bubbling of emotions, as between Japan and China, but both sides take a "principled position." This underwater rock, whose summit is located in 4-5 meters from the surface, is located in 149 km from the Korean island of Marado and in 247 km from the Chinese territory. Iodo is located at the intersection of South Korean and Chinese exclusive economic zones.
Iodo is also known for the fact that the rock "Su" is mentioned in the Chinese treatise "The Book of Mountains and Seas." True, the accuracy of the location of the island "Su" is unknown. The mythical legend about the rock is in Korean culture. According to Korean beliefs, the Iodo rock is a haven of souls of dead sailors and fishermen. The expression "see Iodo" means to perish at sea. Thus, politics intersects with mythology, and Seoul and Beijing argue because of a very gloomy place.
According to international law, the dispute over this rock is baseless, since, according to the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea, an underwater rock cannot be declared by any country as its territory. The controversy between South Korea and China, then fading away, now flaming up with a new force, has been going on for more than a year. Sluggish consultations on this issue have continued since 1996. In 2003, the Koreans built an automatic weather station based on the rock. Then the Chinese side said it did not recognize the sovereignty of South Korea over this rock. In the summer of 2011, China sent patrol ships to the area, demanding that the South Korean ship be in the area to stop the rescue work there. At the end of 2011, Beijing announced plans to begin regular patrols of the area. And the head of the State Oceanographic Administration of China confirmed that China has the rights to sea and air patrols in the area of the Iodo cliff. China has added a rock to the list of objects that are within Chinese borders. In response, the South Korean president said that the rock Iodo will forever remain under the control of South Korea. Then both sides quieted down, clearly “dropping turns” and extinguishing the passions.
In the fall of 2012, there were reports that China wanted to monitor the disputed area with the help of unmanned aerial vehicles. In Seoul, voiced plans for the construction of a large naval base on the island of Jeju. One of its tasks will be to protect the interests of South Korea in the Iodo region. At the same time, within the framework of the development of the armed forces, a strong naval unit will be created, the so-called "Tokto-Iodo squadron". This compound will be focused on protecting the national interests of South Korea in areas that it has challenged Japan and China. So, the Japanese claim Dokdo Island (Liancourt).
It is also obvious that Seoul’s recent plans to build air power are also associated with increased instability in the Asia-Pacific region. Seoul nevertheless decided not to continue the tender for the purchase of a large batch of fighters, but simply to buy 40 American 5 aircraft of the F-35A generation. This is the largest defense order in the history of Kazakhstan, it has already been called the “deal of the century”. F-35A will enter the troops during the period from 2018 to 2021 years. This decision was made on November 22 at a meeting of the Joint Chiefs of Staff of the Armed Forces of the Republic of Kazakhstan. At the same time, the military said that for the modernization of the Air Force it is necessary to buy 60 vehicles, so the issue of acquiring 20 vehicles will also be resolved. Seoul believes that the purchase of forty F-35A will significantly increase the strike power of the aircraft. However, the purchase of American "invisibles" does not solve the problem of the shortage of 50-80 fighters, as soon obsolete F-4 and F-5 will be decommissioned, and new aircraft will not be put into service yet. Therefore, almost simultaneously with the decision to buy American 5-generation fighters, Seoul announced the launch of a program to create a national “invisible” aircraft. Korea plans to build such machines before 120 and export them abroad. The project starts from the beginning of the 2014 year. For the first time in Kazakhstan, the question was raised about the program for creating their own new-generation fighter in the 1999 year. In 2003-2012 several times conducted evaluations of the feasibility of the KF-X project. But then they decided that the creation of their own fighter is unjustified for a number of factors. In particular, Koreans themselves will not be able to create stealth technology. In 2010, Indonesia announced its participation in the project. Now Seoul decided to give it a try.
The activity of Beijing is concerned and Washington. State Department, the Pentagon and the White House immediately made statements condemning the People's Republic of China. US Secretary of State John Kerry called China’s unilateral actions an attempt to “change the status quo in the East China Sea,” which will increase tensions in the region and create risks of incidents. The Secretary of State called on the PRC not to execute its threat and not to take any action against aircraft that do not obey the orders of the Chinese authorities. In early December, John Kerry plans to visit the countries of Southeast Asia, including Japan, South Korea and China. Apparently, the growth of tension in the region will become one of the main topics of the trip of the American Secretary of State.
The head of the US defense department, Chuck Hagel, recalled that the allied promises of the United States towards Japan extend to the Senkaku archipelago. According to the 5 article of the Security Treaty, which was concluded between the US and Japan in 1960, an attack on Senkak could be regarded by Washington as a threat to national security. According to the US Secretary of Defense, the unilateral decision of the PRC to create an air defense zone over the Senkaku Islands will not prevent American armed forces from conducting military operations in the area and creates a threat of regional conflict due to “misunderstandings and wrong conclusions” that participants in the dispute can make.
The representative of the National Security Council under the President of the United States, Caitlin Hayden, expressed concern about the "escalation of the situation, which leads to increased tension in the region and affects the interests of the United States and our allies." She warned that this situation is forcing the US to begin close consultations with its allies in the region.
Beijing, in response, actually suggested the United States not to be bothered. Representative of the Ministry of Defense of China, Yan Yujun, said that Japan has no right to make "irresponsible statements" about the affairs of China, and Washington should not indulge Tokyo in sending "adventurous signals."
What does this move mean China?
Firstly, the violation of the “existing situation” is becoming more pronounced. The dominance of the United States in the Asia-Pacific region is challenged. In Beijing, they feel the general weakening of Washington and are taking steps to strengthen their position, showing Seoul and Tokyo, who is "the master of the house." Naturally, in Japan and South Korea they are nervous and more and more forces are applied to the strengthening of the defense and offensive potential.
Secondly, inside China, the positions of the national bourgeoisie, the “capitalists” who have grown together with the party bureaucracy, are clearly strengthening. And this naturally leads to the strengthening of nationalism. In recent years, the Chinese have become accustomed to constant achievements and successes in the field of economics and military affairs. Therefore, more and more often the military, political scientists and historians are recalling territorial claims, tweaking long-forgotten pages of history. In place of Chinese socialism is nationalism with the features of socialism. With the deepening global crisis and the growing internal problems in China, this trend will constantly increase. The growth of social discontent is most easily dropped on external enemies. No wonder Chinese cinema has long been cultivating the image of the "external enemy" - the Japanese and the white barbarians.
Thirdly, the potential of a regional war in the Asia-Pacific region is constantly growing. The current actions of Beijing, sooner or later may well become a real “reason for war” (lat. Casus belli). One conscious or unconscious mistake of the Chinese or Japanese pilot, the captain of the ship - and the region can glow. And such opportunities appear more and more often. The Chinese military de facto provoke the Japanese. News About the emergence of Chinese ships and aircraft in the waters and airspace, which in Japan consider their own, come more often. As a result, quantity can turn into quality, the conflict will reach a different level.