TOKYO – It’s probably just a coincidence; no need to worry yet. But the U.S. has quietly assembled a powerful air, land and sea armada not far from where Japan and China are squaring off over disputed islands in the East China Sea.
Two Navy aircraft carrier battle groups and a Marine Corps air-ground task force have begun operating in the Western Pacific, within easy reach of the Senkaku Islands. That’s where Japanese and Chinese patrol boats are engaged in an increasingly tense standoff.
Chinese vessels have repeatedly entered territorial waters around the small islands in recent weeks and Coast Guard vessels from Japan and Taiwan fired water cannons at each other last week. The islands are controlled and administered by Japan, but claimed by both China and Taiwan.
No warships have been directly involved in the confrontations, so far. But China has vowed to continue sending patrol vessels into territorial waters and Japan has assembled scores of Coast Guard vessels to “defend” the islands.
The U.S. hasn’t taken sides in the ownership dispute, and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has called for “cooler heads” to prevail. Nonetheless, U.S. officials have stated clearly that the Senkakus fall under the U.S.-Japan security treaty, which would require the U.S. to come to Japan’s aid in case of attack.
Big Deck diplomacy in action. It’s a reminder to China to not get too aggressive in the region, and to Japan that we’ve got their back. And it will hopefully convince both sides to dial back the tensions a bit.