An imminent casus foederis in East Asia?

The USA and the Sino-Japanese Sovereignty Dispute in the East China Sea

Martin Wagener

(translated by Christopher Schönberger/Austrian Armed Forces Language Institute)


The dispute over the islands in the East China Sea called, respectively, Senkaku by Japan and Diaoyu by China has markedly escalated in the last few years. A manifest territorial conflict has existed between the two great East-Asian powers ever since the events of September 2010 when a Chinese fishing trawler and two ships of the Japanese Coast Guard were involved in a collision. Unilateral measures through which the adversaries attempted to strengthen their positions have been another contributing factor. In September 2012, the Japanese government bought three of the islands from their private owner. In November 2013, Beijing declared an air defence identification zone, which included the disputed area. Armed forces manoeuvres show that both sides now think war possible. WhileChina trains amphibious landing operations, Japans prepares to retake lost islands.

What makes the territorial conflict in the East China Seaso serious is its potential for escalation. The USAand Japanare bound by the bilateral Security Treaty of 1960, with the USA repeatedly stating that this treaty covers the Senkaku/Diaoyu Islands. An argument between neighbours could therefore quickly develop into a global conflict. The USA would have to take military measures against China if it tried to occupy the islands in the East China Sea currently under Japanese control. The result would not only be a security-political but also an economic disaster. With the USA, China and Japan the world’s three largest economies would be at war. In 2013 these three countries were responsible for 41.3 % of global GDP.[1] Depending on the scale of the conflict, it could wreak havoc on international stock exchanges and severely impair global production networks.

Against this backdrop, this two-part article looks at the following questions: What is the USA’s rôle in the Sino-Japanese territorial conflict? And, given that the current situation is growing ever more critical, how realistic is an American-Japanese casus foederis, and how could this play out? To answer these questions, Part 1 will illustrate the key data, legal positions, the decision-makers‘ motives, and the forces driving the Senkaku/Diaoyu Islands conflict. In this, the following differentiation will be made: a motive is influenced by the decision-takers and directly informs their actions. Forces (history/narratives, a society’s preferences, security dilemma) leave their impact on decision-making processes, but are often outside the actors‘ control. Part 2 will look at America’s policy in East Asia, which determines Washington’s position in the East China Sea conflict. Then, an attempt will be made to sketch out how an escalation of the territorial conflict could be triggered. Whether this would result in a casus foederis in East Asia and how theUSA would presumably react in the event of an escalation is to be clarified at the end.

 1. The Senkaku/Diaoyu Islands Conflict

The Sino-Japanese territorial conflict can be divided into three parts. The focus of the present dispute is on the Senkaku/Diaoyu area, consisting of five islands and three rocks.[2] Japan gives the size of the total area as 5.17 sqkm, China as 5.69 sqkm and Taiwan as 6.16 sqkm.[3] The islands are not only interesting because of their vicinity to possible resources. They have, in the meantime, achieved a high symbolic status. Japan and China seem to have made the assertion of their territorial demands a question of national honour. There is an additional dispute pursuant to the 1982 UN Convention on the Law of the Sea (in force November 1994) concerning exclusive economic zones, which can be claimed should certain conditions apply. They can stretch up to 200 nautical miles (nmi) from the baseline and, in the case of Japan and China, overlap in the East China Sea to an extent of 81,000 sqmi.[4] The extent of the Chinese continental shelf, which, pursuant to the UN Convention, can extend 350 nmi beyond the baseline, is also under dispute. Tokio’s claims to the Okinotorishima atoll are also a thorn in Beijing’s flesh - it does not, however, lay claim to them. At a distance of 1,700 km from Tokyo, it is the Japan’s southernmost territory. Japan regards Okinotorishima as an island and therefore lays claim to an exclusive economic zone, which China rejects, as it regards the atoll as a collection of rocks only.[5]

2. Legal positions and motives

Legal positions could not be further apart. Chinaasserts that it discovered the Senkaku/Diaoyu Islands already in the 14th century, has used them peacefully since then, and draws attention to old charts which indicate ownership. After the 1894/95 war, in the Treaty of Shimonoseki, Japan assumed ownership of the Islands as a part of Taiwan. They consequently reverted to the Middle Kingdom when, in 1945, Tokyo had to cede control of Formosa and its associated areas after the end of the war in the Pacific.[6] Domestically, China underlined its claim in February 1992 with the Law of the People's Republic of China Concerning the Territorial Sea and the Contiguous Zone, which, in Article 2, defines the Diaoyu Islands as a part of Taiwan.[7]

Tokyo, however, states that the Senkaku Islands are not part of the areas it was assigned in the Treaty of Shimonoseki of April 1895. Rather, the Islands were incorporated into Japanese territory as terra nullius following a cabinet decision in January 1895. Prior to that, expeditions to the islands had determined that they were uninhabited. After the war in the Pacific, the disputed areas came under US administration, something China did not object to. With the signing of the Okinawa Reversion Treaty in 1971 (in force as of May 1972)[8] the Senkaku Islands again came under Japanese control.[9]

Which side is right cannot be determined here.[10] China deserves some censure for not taking international law completely seriously. This is shown by its claim to the largest parts of the South China Sea, something which cannot be inferred from the 1982 UN Convention on the Law of the Sea. In the case of the Senkaku/Diaoyu Islands, its long silence on the matter has weakened Beijing’s legal position. China did not make any official territorial claims for over seventy years and only changed this position with the US handover of Okinawa and the Senkaku Islands toJapan.

Many observers think that, at that time, Beijingmainly reacted to a study carried out by the United Nations Economic Commission for Asia and the Far East (ECAFE) and published in 1969. Its findings suggested that there are oil fields in the area around the Senkaku/Diaoyu Islands. Shortly afterwards, China made an official claim.[11] Estimates concerning crude oil and natural gas deposits vary widely. The US Energy Information Administration (EIA) estimates that there are only 60 to 100 million barrels, but also points out that Chinese sources claim there are 70 to 160 billion barrels.[12] Immediately following the 1969 report, Japan estimated that the deposits amount to 94.5 billion barrels.[13] This means that the crude oil resources in the East China Sea are either negligible or represent 60% of Saudi Arabia’s 265.4 billion barrels of reserves.[14] A similar picture emerges concerning natural gas reserves. The EIA estimates that there are one to two billion cubic feet in the East China Sea, China thinks that there are reserves of up to 250 billion cubic feet.[15]

Developments in the East China Seaare therefore not only a question of prestige and diverging legal positions, but also of economic motives and additional strategic aspects. Both states would create a precedent if they made concessions in the island dispute. If Tokyowere to climb down in the Senkaku/Diaoyu question, its neighbours could perceive this as weakness. Japan would have to fear that its position in the territorial conflicts with North and South Korea concerning the Dokdo/Takeshima Islands and with Russia in the Kuril Islands/Northern Territories Dispute is weakening. IfChina climbs down, this could be viewed as open encouragement for thePhilippines andVietnam to pursue their claims in theSouth China Sea more forcefully.

A military-strategic motive is provided by the importance of the Ryukyu Islands as a maritime barrier within the first island chain. To test power projection options in the western Pacific, the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) has already succeeded in passing through them regularly and unhindered by Japan. As long as one of the five international passages through the archipelago is used which are recognised by Japan (Osumi, Soya and Tsugury Strait, as well as the eastern and wester channel of the Tsushima Strait), Tokyo has to accept such activities. In the past, however, the PLA also used different sea routes, such as the Ishigaki Strait, which Japan regards as its territorial waters.[16] A further economic motive becomes clear here: six of China’s ten largest trade ports can only be reached via the East China Sea, which is why sea routes that can be controlled autonomously are so interesting.[17] It is therefore Beijing’s goal to weaken Tokyo’s resolve to control its southern waters. If Japan were ready to cede control over the Senkaku/Diaoyu Islands,China would have achieved its aim.Tokyo will therefore do everything to guard against such a scenario.

German media mainly portray the Senkaku/Diaoyu Islands conflict as a dispute between China and Japan. This is a rather simplistic view. Taiwan, which refers to the islands as Diaoyutai, also lays claim to them. Just like his predecessors, President Ma Ying-jeou has declared that by law the islands belong to the Republic of China. In this, Taiwan’s legal position corresponds to China’s.[18] Ma’s approach, however, seems more constructive than that of the big neighbour. In August 2012 he proposed the East China Sea Peace Initiative in which he suggested, inter alia, a code of conduct for the East China Sea as well as cooperation between Japan, China and Taiwan in the exploitation of mutually claimed natural resources.[19] Taipeh regards the completion of the Taiwan-Japan Fisheries Agreement in April 2013 as a positive outcome of this intiative. Ma also keeps a low profile in the territorial conflict, as he does not wish to jeopardise the stabilisation of the situation in the Taiwan Strait, which has been realised withChina since 2008. As the diplomatic ‘main front’ therefore runs betweenBeijing andTokyo, it will be the focus of the following remarks.

3. Forces Influencing the Conflict

The bad relationship between the two states would be incomprehensible if the perspective were narrowed to their wide-ranging economic ties. Since 2007, Chinahas been Japan’s most important trading partner; in 2011 Sino-Japanese trade was already significantly ahead of American-Japanese trade (345.7 billion US Dollars to 203.9 billion US Dollars, with the latter in second place).[20] Between 2005 and 2011 Tokyo and Beijing almost doubled their trade volume, from USD 188.4 billion to USD 345.7 billion.[21] As a result of the islands dispute, bilateral trade dropped to USD 332.7 billion, which, according to the IMF, was mostly due to a reduction of Chinese imports from Japan from USD 161.8 billion to USD 144.2 billion.[22] For 2012 the Japan External Trade Organisation (JETRO) expects a reduction of 3.3% to USD 333.7 billion; 2013 will bring a further 6.5% reduction to USD 312 billion.[23] The area of foreign direct investments (FDI) does not look any better. JETRO reports for 2013 that Japan’s FDI in China decreased by 32.5%.[24] During the same period, Chinese FDI in the neighbouring country declined by 23.5%.[25]

Despite these turbulences, both sides seek to intensify economic relations. One indicator of this is, for example, the trilateral project of a Free Trade Agreement (FTA), which Tokyo, Beijing and Seoul put on the joint agenda in May 2012. Remarkably, despite the islands dispute, negotiations on the creation of a free trade zone continued in 2013 and 2014.[26] The implementation of a June 2008 agreement on joint exploitation of energy resources in certain areas of the East China Sea is, however, in limbo.[27]

Can the existing economic interdependencies be regarded as a force? Viewed sceptically, it can be argued that the economic integration of both sides has not produced any profound political effect. A more optimistic assessment is also possible, however: could it not have been the wide-ranging economic ties which prevented an escalation of the conflict in the past years?

In contrast, the negative forces influencing the territorial conflict can easily be enumerated and assessed. Of central importance is the difficult history of the two states which feeds rigid and negatively charged narratives. These influence both sides’ perception of the other and, in the present case, contribute to a deterioration of the territorial conflict. For China, Japan remains a state which has learnt little from its martial past.[28] This not only includes the 1894/1895 conflict. Additional points would be the Japanese victory over Russia in 1905, the annexation of Korea in 1910, and the invasion of Manchuria in 1931. Especially the 1937-1945 war on the mainland is still present in the collective consciousness. Chiefly because Japan committed abhorrent war crimes: from the Nanking massacre to mass rapes and the experiments on humans carried out by Unit 731.[29] Without any doubt, today’s democratic Japan has broken with this history. Beijing, however, is irked by Tokyo policy makers who, it alleges, are playing down the crimes of the Imperial Japanese Army. The visit of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe to the Yasukuni Shrine in December 2013 therefore led to massive protests by China as well as South Korea. The reason for the neighbour states’ irritation is the fact that the Yasukuni Shrine not only commemorates 2,466,532 war dead, but also 14 class-A war criminals.[30]

Japan’s narrative is also negatively charged. Tokyohas been regarding its neighbour’s long-term development with scepticism at least since the most recent Chinese nuclear tests and the concurrent 1995/1996 crisis in the Taiwan Strait. Defence projects which directly threaten Japan increase Tokyo’s worries (inter alia fifth generation jet fighters such as the J-20/J-31, the development of the submarine fleet, as well as the total exposure of Japan’s four main islands to Chinese short and medium range missiles). Japan will also have noticed that China does not pull any punches in territorial conflicts with weaker states such as the Philippines; the 2012 Scarborough Shoal standoff and the 2013 incidents connected with the Second Thomas Shoal might serve as examples in the East China Sea. In May 2014 Vietnam learnt in connection with the Paracel Islands that it has little leeway against Chinese advances such as the establishment of an oil platform in disputed waters.

For Japan, Chinais therefore not only a military threat but also a state that strives for domination in East Asia. In the past years the government has openly verbalised this obvious connection. The National Security Strategy of 17 December 2013 states that “China has taken actions that can be regarded as attempts to change the status quo by coercion.“[31] The National Defense Program Guidelines, adopted by the Abe cabinet on 17 December 2013, assert with a view to the neighbour’s conflict behaviour in maritime questions that China plans “to change the status quo by coercion“[32]. Concerning the activities of the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) in Japanese waters and airspace it speaks of “dangerous activities that could cause unexpected situations“[33].

Charged narratives are capable of contributing to a one-sided interpretation of current events. The public mood, in turn, can be used by policy makers as a justification for their actions. Public pressure, however, can lead to a country’s leadership behaving differently from the way it had intended to. A concrete appraisal of the public’s influence on policy makers is not possible due to the problem of verifying confounding variables; plausible mechanisms can, however, be assumed in the present case (especially because the data speak for themselves). The public moods in both societies have developed in a dangerous direction – i.e. towards a maritime conflict force.

Polls carried out by the Pew Research Center in April/May 2014 show that 86% of the Chinese have a low or even very low opinion of Japan (2013: 90%). The mood in the neighbouring country is no better: 91% of the Japanese are dismissive or very dismissive of China (2013: 93%). 62% of the Chinese and 85% of the Japanese think it possible that the rivalry in the East China Sea leads to a military conflict.[34] Polls by Genron NPO and China Daily in May-July 2013 and July-August 2014 produced similar attitude patterns. In China in 2013, 92.8% were dismissive of the neighbour state (2014: 86.6%), in Japan it was 90.1% (2014: 93%). Asked why they were so negative vis-à-vis their neighbour, 53.2% of those interviewed in Japan (2014: 50.4%) and 77.6% of those interviewed in China (2014: 64%) quoted the Senkaku/Diaoyu dispute; compared with other possible answers, this statement scored highest in both states in 2013 and in China in 2014. 77.5% (2014: 64.8%) of the Chinese and 72.1% (2014: 58,6%) of the Japanese stated that the East China Sea islands dispute was most alarming in Sino-Japanese relations (highest scores with a clear margin to answer 2, even with a downward tendency). What is striking in this context is the assessment concerning an increase in nationalism at home. This development is acknowledged by 29.3% of the Japanese and 59.3% of the Chinese. The question "Will there be a military conflict between Japan and China in the future?“ was therefore answered accordingly: 23.7% of respondents in Japan (2014: 29%) and 52.7% of those in China (2014: 53.4%) answered in the affirmative.[35]

The public mood in both countries could therefore one day encourage Beijingand Tokyoto escalate the conflict. Until then, both sides will not back down, if only because of public pressure. An additional factor in Chinais that President Xi Jingpi, at the same time General Secretary of the Communist Party of China (CPC) and Chairman of the Central Military Commission, depends on the PLA’s absolute loyalty. This rules out any accommodation in territorial questions, especially vis-à-vis the former occupying power. Xi’s unrelenting posture in the islands dispute therefore also helps legitimise his rule. The conflict is also very opportune for Prime Minister Shinzo Abe. It helps justify rearmament programmes and the attempted reinterpretation of Article 9 of the Japanese Constitution. In the last few years this article was interpreted as barring the Japan Self-Defense Forces (SDF) from engaging in collective defence measures. This could change now, as can be gleaned from the cabinet decision taken on 1 July 2014.[36] Abe’s view of history – i.e. extenuating Japan’s responsibility for events in the war in the Pacific – can also be more easily communicated at home against the backdrop of the continuing islands dispute.[37]

In this regard there is a massive difference between the forces driving the governments in Beijing and Tokyo. Given China’s authoritarian structure, Xi Jingpin can act from a largely consolidated position. The situation is completely different for the Prime Minister of Japan. There were seven changes of Prime Minster between 2006 and 2012. Between 2009 and 2012 various heads of government came from the Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ) which had little, if any, foreign policy experience. For the situation in the East China Sea this means that it is difficult to calculate how long the Prime Minister’s approach will determine Tokyo’s position. It may well be possible for Shinzo Abe to enjoy a longer-than-average term in office. In December 2014 the ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) comfortably won the early elections to the House of Representatives. Theoretically, Abe could now determine Japan’s course in the East China Sea until at least 2018.[38] Irrespective of the current constellation, it must be generally stated that the two states’ different political systems makeBeijing’s behaviour in the Senkaku/Diaoyu Islands dispute more easily calculable than Tokio’s.

The last force driving the territorial conflict is the security dilemma, which is fuelled by the armament programmes pursued by both states. In March 2014 Beijing increased its defence budget by 12.2% to (officially) USD 132 billion (according to the Pentagon it was already in 2013 at least USD 145 billion).[39] This budget item has witnessed double-digit increases for years; from 2004 to 2013 it was 9.4% on average.[40] In 2007, China’s defence budget was higher than that of Japan,[41] which, in comparison, had fallen back significantly, with USD 51 billion spent on defence.[42] Recent decisions taken by the Abe government could lead to a new dynamic, since they could be interpreted by Beijing as a change in direction. In January 2013 Tokyo announced that, for the first time in eleven years, it would increase defence expenditures. At the end of August 2014 plans for a further increase of 3.5% became known, which meant that, by their standards, the Japanese government would submit a record defence budget.[43] China will also have been impressed by the fact that Japan now owns three helicopter carriers, which the International Institute for Strategic Studies in London classifies as aircraft carriers.[44]Beijing also regardsTokyo as giving a leg up to American pre-eminence inEast Asia. BecauseChina regards military alliances as a threat to peace in the region, it consequently feels threatened by the Japanese-American alliance.

The security dilemma influences the situation in the East China Seaand, at the same time, is also exacerbated by it. How intractable it already is, is shown by manoeuvres helping in the preparations for war. Chinatrains amphibious landing operations, such as e.g. in the 2013 Missing Action exercise. Anticipating this, the SDF is preparing to retake occupied islands; either bilaterally with the USA in the Dawn Blitz manoeuvre, or unilaterally, as in an exercise of May 2014 involving 1,300 Japanese soldiers.[45] The National Defense Program Guidelines of 17 December 2013 openly assert a corresponding requirement in the military capabilities profile: “[…] should any remote islands be invaded, Japan will recapture them.“[46] The Japanese Defence White Papers of 2013 and 2014 repeat this stipulation.

As regards power constellations, there are certain additional features which influence the future developments and could lead to a power shift in the long term. Japannot only regards Chinaas a military threat, but also feels intimidated by the speed of the Middle Kingdom’s economic ascendancy. In 2010, Beijingrelegated its neighbour from the second to the third place in the ranking of global economic powers. At the same time, Chinaowns unparalleled foreign exchange reserves of USD 3.888 trillion (as of September 2014)[47], with Japan ‘only’ holding USD 1.204 trillion (as of October 2014)[48]. The differences become even clearer when comparing national debts in relation to GDP size. Japan’s 226.1% put it in first place globally, whereas China is in 134th place with 22.4% (2013 estimate).[49]

The greatest potential for change results from the disparate dynamism in the economic growth of Chinaand the USA. Considering the share of global GDP, the challenger has made up a lot of leeway vis-à-vis the hegemon. Whereas China’s share continuously increased from 1.6% to 12.3% between 1990 and 2013, the USA witnessed a slight drop in the same period from 26.8% to 22.4%.[50] The hegemon may still dominate, but no longer as clearly as it did immediately after the end of the East-West Conflict. Furthermore, the enormous burden of debt could limit the rooms for manoeuver of future American governments. Under President Obama alone, American national debt rose from USD 10.627 trillion (20 January 2009) to USD 17.955 trillion (17 November 2014).[51] Japan could draw the following conclusions from this: problems with China – such as the dispute in the East China Sea – must be solved as long as the alliance with the USA is strong. At the same time, Japan’s military capabilities should be developed to prepare for when the hegemon reduces its commitment to East Asia. Presently, the USA stresses exactly the opposite in its policy regarding the opposite Pacific coast, namely a pivot to Asia or a rebalancing. This approach, which includes a deepening of American-Japanese ties, is viewed as a challenge byBeijing.

4. The Rôle of the USA

In the middle of the 1990’s, and for the third time in less than sixty years, the USAwas faced with a situation in East Asiawhere it had a rival which was a dominating, equally competitive or rising major power.[52] From 1941 to 1945 it was at war with Japan, the then Far-Eastern hegemonic power. During the East-West Conflict, bipolar structures – the superpowers USA and Soviet Union – dominated the security architecture of the Far East. China very often held the balance of power. The Cold War over, the USA suddenly was the sole major military power on the scene, also because potential competitors had dropped out. The Soviet Union had gone under in 1991; the Russia that emerged from it had to find its security-political feet and finally decided, in 2002, to give up its last regional military post in Cam Ranh Bay (Vietnam). China in turn, inter alia because of domestic turmoil as a result of the suppression of the democracy movement in Tiananmen Square in June 1989, was still too weak to be an important power factor in the Far East.[53]

4.1.Chinaas a Strategic Rival

Following this period of upheaval and the concomitant natural confusion, the past years have witnessed the emergence of a new strategic constellation in East Asia, with Washingtonand Beijingin a classic conflict of major powers.[54] While the USA is planning to uphold its rôle as the region’s hegemon,[55] China has assumed the rôle of the peer competitor, which will attempt to turn Pax Americana into a Pax Sinica. From this perspective, the territorial conflict in the East China Sea achieves its special global importance. In East Asia, the USA concurrently comports itself as a strategic rival to China and as an ally to Japan. From Tokyo’s point of view, both these positions are equally important. For Beijing, however, a totally different picture emerges. The American presence, which is pro-Japanese at the same time, will not only hamper any PLA operation in the territorial conflict; it will make it almost impossible. China also believes that Japan is so self-confident in the Senkaku/Diaoyu dispute, because it can count on American support.

It is therefore Beijing’s goal to create military options which would impede access to the Pacific west coast in the event of a crisis.[56] Developing the submarine fleet, acquiring anti-ship cruise missiles (ASCM), commissioning the DF-21D (carrier killer)[57], and more, are proof of this, as are the numerous negative assessments of America’s forward presence and the American alliance system in official Chinese documents.[58] The necessity for creating an anti-access strategy is the PLA leadership’s conclusion from Washington’s intervention in the 1995/96 Taiwan Strait Crisis. The Pentagon refers to this approach as Anti-Access/Area Denial (A2/AD).[59]

4.2. AirSea Battle and rebalancing

The USAhas therefore been watching China’s military build-up with great unease. It fears that the PLA increasingly has the means to disable or at the very least curtail the freedom of movement of American merchant vessels and warships in the Western Pacific. The American Department of Defense therefore commissioned the AirSea Battle Concept in July 2009, which, after numerous preliminary reports, was presented in May 2013.[60] Its goal is to integrate American air and naval forces conceptionally so that, in the event of a crisis, they can effectively penetrate any People’s Liberation Army Navy (PLAN) or People’s Liberation Army Air Force (PLAAF) blockades.

Parallell to this, since autumn 2011 the USA has pointed out numerous times that in future it wants to focus strategically on the Far East; in discussions this was at first referred to as pivot to Asia and subsequently, and also officially, as rebalancing.[61] In October 2011, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton stated in an article for Foreign Policy: “The future of politics will be decided in Asia, not Afghanistan or Iraq“[62] In his address to the Australian Parliament on 17 November 2011, President Obama was even clearer. He gave the highest priority to America’s commitment in East Asia: “As a result, reductions in U.S. defense spending will not - I repeat, will not - come at the expense of the Asia Pacific.“[63] These deliberations have found their way into two important strategic position papers. The Defense Strategic Guidance (DSG), published by the Pentagon at the beginning of January 2012, under the title Sustaining U.S. Global Leadership: Priorities for 21st Century Defense states: “[…] while the U.S. military will continue to contribute to security globally, we will of necessity rebalance toward the Asia-Pacific region."[64] The Quadrennial Defense Review (QDR) of 4 March 2014 stipulates: “As part of our broader efforts for stability in the Asia-Pacific region, the United States will maintain a robust footprint in Northeast Asia while enhancing our presence in Oceania and Southeast Asia.“[65]

The DSG 2012 and the QDR 2014 put challenges in East Asia at the top of the agenda; the descriptions also give these challenges pride of place. Possible changes to this hierarchy will depend on the further development of the Ukraine conflict and the question of whether the activities of the Islamic State in Syria and Iraq can be curbed without a larger ground offensive. If Europe does not fall back into Cold War routines, the following list of priorities regarding security-political challenges (already formulated in the QDR 2006) applies to the USA: “Of the major and emerging powers, China has the greatest potential to compete militarily with the United States and field disruptive military technologies that could over time offset traditional U.S. military advantages absent U.S. counter strategies.“[66] The rebalancing inEast Asia is therefore much more than a spontaneous, stragically unreflected decision.

The realignment and optimisation of the American global as well as regional military presence was already considered and partially implemented by President George W. Bush in his 2004 Global Defense Posture Review.[67] The rebalancing in East Asia by his successor Obama is more diversified and has a diplomatic, an economic, as well as a military/security-strategic aspect. Immediately after the new administration took office, Washington sent out signals at the diplomatic level. In February 2009, Hillary Clinton made her first visit to East Asia and, as the first American Secretary of State, visited the Secretary General of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) in Jakarta. In November 2009, the first summit was held between the USA and the ASEAN states. In Hanoi in October 2010, Washington was one of the founder members of the ADMM-Plus Meeting (Asian Defence Ministers Meeting-Plus) of the ASEAN Defence Ministers and eight Dialogue Partners. In November 2011, the American President participated for the first time in the East Asia Summit (EAS) in Bali. As a result of the ‘spring’ developing in Myanmar, US policy towards this former South East Asian pariah state, which was the 2014 ASEAN Chair, changed. At the beginning of December 2011, Clinton was a guest at the Irrawaddy; in November 2012 Obama paid his respects to Myanmar.[68]

The Obama administration’s economic rebalancing flagship is the Trans-Pacific Partnership Project (TPP). It is the result of an initiative taken by Singapore, New Zealand and Chile in 2003. In 2008 the USA joined the negotiations. Among the further members, twelve in all, are Australia, Canada, Japan, Malaysia, Mexiko, Peru, Brunei and Vietnam.[69] The importance of these states for American foreign trade is shown by 2013 export figures: US exports of goods to the TPP States were USD 698 billion (44% of total exports). Agricultural exports were USD 58.8 billion (85% of total exports).[70]

The goal of military/security-strategic rebalancing is stated in the QDR 2014 as: “[…] a force posture that is more geographically distributed, operationally resilient, and politically sustainable.“[71] The focus is on strengthening the cooperation with allies and security partners in South East Asia and Oceania. In November 2011 an agreement was reached with Australia to station a rotational force of up to 2,500 Marines in Darwin. Until 2018 at the latest, four Littoral Combat Ships (LCS) are to operate from Singapur; the first arrived on-site in 2013. A rotational deployment is also envisaged here. The LCS are to improve US capabilities in littoral waters combat, something especially geared towards the situation in the South China Sea. In 2011 and 2013, the US transferred two decommissioned US coast guard frigates to the Philippines; Manila also requested a third Hamilton class frigate from Washington. During Obama’s visit to Manila in April 2014 an additional agreement was reached that in future American soldiers could increasingly use Philippine bases – also on the basis of rotational deployments. Truly remarkable is the development of relations with Vietnam. What had been unthinkable for a long time, happened in August 2011. For the first time since the end of the Vietnam War, a US Navy vessel, the USNS Richard E. Byrd, underwent repairs in Cam Ranh Bay Naval Base. Old security ties have also been reactivated. In 2012, the USA and New Zealand agreed to resume their formerly close military cooperation, after the USA had suspended commitments laid down in the Australia, New Zealand, United States Security Treaty (ANZUS) of September 1951 (in force as of 1952) following differences pertaining to questions of nuclear power.[72] Wellington’s warships will now again be allowed to visit American harbours on a case-by-case basis. Concerning the global allocation of American sea and air warfare means, a 60:40 ratio in favour of the Pacific is envisaged for 2020, something that has already partly become a reality.[73]

The AirSea Battle Concept, the rebalancing approach, and the altogether positive reactions of most East Asian countries to the deepening of the American forward presence, strongly plays into the hands of the Tokyo leadership as regards the islands conflict in the East China Sea. For Japan, the USA remains an active military factor on-site, carrying the main burden of China’s preventive containment. At the same time, Tokyo has decided to support American rebalancing, something that has become apparent, inter alia, in its own rearmament efforts, increased diplomatic commitment in South East Asia, and the delivery, announced in July 2013, of ten patrol boats to the Philippines (a similar arms export deal seems to be in the pipeline with Vietnam).[74] In the case of Manila, such a policy yields positive side-effects. After a meeting with Prime Minister Shinzo Abe on the Philippines in June 2014, President Benigno Aquino III declared that he supports a reinterpretation of the Japanese constitution, to the effect that Tokyo could support other states in the development of defence capabilities.[75]

Independent of these recent developments, Japanhas been and will continue to be the central pillar of America’s East Asian alliance system. Primarily, it is home to the bulk of the USforward presence on the Pacific opposite coast (approx. 50,000 of approx. 84,000 of American soldiers in the Western Pacific are allocated to Japan).[76] There is also Yokosuka, a navy base used by the Pentagon as the only home port of a US carrier group outside of American territory. In this core relationship, Obama, just like his predecessor, pursues the goal of reducing the American military presence on Okinawa; individual units are to be deployed to, e.g., Guam, which, since 2000, has been developed into a more and more important American outpost in the Pacific.[77] Secondly, the deployment of American soldiers and of the Seventh Fleet not only helps to protect the allies, but also aids in the execution of regional and global operations.

These constellations of power and interests have an impact on the inner workings of the American-Japanese alliance, especially with regard to the conflict dynamics in the East China Sea. For the USA, the following applies: the American government has fundamental reasons to ensure its ally’s security. It is the alliance with Tokyothat cements Washington’s role a Pacific power. For Japan, the following applies: without Washington’s support, and especially without America’s nuclear umbrella, Tokyo’s position vis-à-visBeijing would deteriorate dramatically. The assumption can therefore be made that, in the event of a disagreement, the junior partner will be more willing to make concessions. This assumption can also be arrived at by means of a different deduction. Within the alliance, the distribution of burdens is uneven, i.e. to the disadvantage of theUSA. It is only because of this fact thatTokyo can ‘afford’ to run such a small defence budget. This could mean that Japanese governments feel permanently indebted. The result is thatWashington’s diplomatic influence on its ally concerning the islands dispute in theEast China Sea should not to underestimated.

4.3. TheUSPosition in theIslandsDispute

The USAhas clearly positioned itself in the Senkaku/Diaoyu Islands dispute. On the one hand, it is neutral. No territorial claims are made; the handover of control to Japan in 1972 through the Okinawa Reversion Treaty is regarded as final. America also does not make statements on which country owns or should own the islands. On the other hand, it is not neutral, for three reasons. First, and following the Japanese position, it regards the Senkaku Islands as a part of Okinawa.[78] Second, Kuba Island and Taisho Island – which are part of the diputed islands – are available to the American armed forces as a military training area.[79] If China were to take control of the area, US interests would be directly affected. Third, immediately after the signing of the Okinawa Reversion Treaty, the Nixon administration stated that the Security Treaty of January 1960 (Treaty of Mutual Cooperation and Security between Japan und the United States of America, entered into force June 1960) also covers the Senkaku Islands.[80]

This position has not been changed by the following governments, which is why the charge that for a long time the USAdid not clearly state the extent of its defence duties in the East China Seais unfounded.[81] In February 2004, for example, Richard L. Armitage, the Deputy Secretary of State of the Bush Administration, declared that an attack against “the administrative territories under Japanese control“ would be an “attack on the United States“.[82] This position creates no further prejudicial effect. The USA simply takes Article 5 of the Treaty seriously. Both sides would therefore react, in due consideration of the respective constitutional stipulations, should there be an “armed attack […] in the territories under the administration of Japan“.[83] Hence,Washington recognisesTokyo’s current control of the islands and has not made any statement on the question of the disputed islands’ sovereignty.

In October 2010, during Barack Obama’s first term in office, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton was quoted to the effect that the security guarantees in the Treaty of 1960 also include the Senkaku Islands.[84] Other administration representatives of the State and Defense Departments made similar statements in the following years. Most attention was captured by a speech given by Obama during his visit to Japan in April 2014, in which he repeated the known wording.[85] This was special insofar as this was the first time a US President confirmed that the Security Treaty of 1960 also covers the Senkaku Islands.

What is striking is that the USAhas not made any comparable concessions to its ally, the Philippines. Since August, 1951 Washingtonhas been linked to Manilathrough the Mutual Defense Treaty (entered into force August 1952). Up to now, no US Administration has publicly declared that this defence treaty also covers the Spratly Islands – the Kalayaan Island Group – in the South China Sea, which the Philippines lays claim to.[86] From a purely political point of view, the reason for this double standard in alliances is easily comprehensible. Manila is incapable of effectively deterring Beijing. This became clear in 2012 when Chinese units de facto took control of the Scarborough Shoal; in 2013 Beijing began exerting pressure on its competitor on the Second Thomas Shoal, which is currently still held by Philippine Marines. If theUSA were to give clear protection guarantees, it could quickly find itself party to a crisis it has no interest in.

5. Conflict Escalation – a Scenario

It is amazing that there has been no major military encounter in East Asiasince the 1979 Sino-Vietnamese War (with the possible exception of the Thai-Laotian Border War in 1987/88). The reason has always been the sober-mindedness of at least one conflict party. In April 2001, a Chinese interceptor fighter jet collided with an American signals intelligence aircraft near Hainan Island. Washington and Beijing kept the tussle at the diplomatic level. In December 2001 Japan sank an alleged North Korean spy vessel. There was no military response from Pyonyang. Skirmishes at the Thai-Cambodian border between 2008 and 2011 cost approx. three dozen lives; they did not, however, escalate.[87] The sinking of the South Korean corvette Cheonan in March, as well as North Korea’s shelling of the South Korean island of Yeonpyeong in November 2010 resultet in 50 dead.Washington’s clear, military show of solidarity contributed considerably to calming the frayed nerves of theSeoul government, as well as to its reticence concerning the conflict.

The East China Sea also witnessed a serious incident between Chinaand Japan. In September 2010 a Chinese fishing trawler collided with two Japanese Coast Guard ships.[88] The result, again, was strong diplomatic discord; there was, however, no break-off of relations or military provocations.

It is questionable whether this exploration of limits within the status quo is a recipe for long-term success, whether at least one party to a conflict always keeps its wits about it and is willing to climb down. Both sides are currently playing with fire and are risking a military encounter should conditions worsen, coincidential events occur and bureaucratic blunders follow. For the USA, the situation looks positively unsettling. It could indeed stumble into a casus foederis through no fault of its own.

How and why might this happen? Not only the Chinese and Japanese Coast Guards are active in the East China Sea, but also supporting air and naval forces. Activities have increased on both sides. According to Tokyo, Chinese government vessels entered Japanese territorial waters surrounding the Senkaku/Diaoyu Islands only once in 2011, twenty-three times in 2012, fifty-two times in 2013 and fifteen times between January and June 2014 alone.[89] China describes these activities as an expression of its sovereign rights in the disputed areas and regards the presence of its neighbour’s ships as illegal. Additional activities are carried out by the Coast Guards and naval forces in the contiguous zones and the exclusive economic zones. The number of peaceful interceptions of Chinese fighter jets by Japanese ones for the protection of the airspace has also increased, according to Tokyo. Between 2011 and 2012 they increased from 156 to 306. In 2013 they were up to 415.[90] Should these numerous encounters between both sides’ ships and aircraft result in a collision, a runaway chain reaction could result.[91]

Should a Japanese Coast Guard ship be deliberately rammed by a ship of the Chinese Coast Guard, a Japanese naval vessel in the vicinity might try to come to its assistance.[92] Should it fire warning shots as a deterrence measure, as has already been discussed by Japanese politicians[93], there is the danger that the Chinese vessel might be hit by accident. For his part, the Chinese captain could now request support and classify the warning shots as deliberate aggression. The question is whether Chinese fighter jets or naval vessels, in the vicinity by chance, would intervene and contribute to a further escalation of the situation. To this end, they could, for example, sink the Japanese Coast Guard ship in retaliation. Now would arise, in the Clausewitzian sense truly “in the fog of war”, the greatest challenge: how to ensure that the governments on both sides receive reliable information in order to assess the situation correctly as what it is, a perfect storm.[94] The danger is that both sides employ the above-mentioned narratives to assess the incident and are therefore prepared to pursue further military measures.

If the information from Tokyois correct, PLA units have already knowingly risked an escalation of the situation. On 30 January 2013, from a distance of three kilometres, a Jiangwei-II-class frigate supposedly acquired the Japanese destroyer Yuudachi with its fire control radar; on 19 January 2013 the target acquisition system of a Jiangkai-I-class frigate was directed at a helicopter of the Japanese destroyer Oonami.[95] What would happen in a similar situation if one side preventively opened fire on the other side, believing it would be sunk otherwise? Reports that in October 2013 Abe approved plans to down Chinese UAV’s circling above the islands are also cause for alarm.[96] The leadership inBeijing could react to this militarily to save face domestically.

5.1. PossibleUSIntervention in the Event of War

What USbehaviour can be expected in an escalating crisis in the East China Sea? Washington’s reaction will completely depend on the details of how the escalation developed. Should Japanbe regarded as the agent provocateur, the USA could argue that China acted defensively, which would make American support for the ally inopportune. If Tokyo wants to be sure of Washington’s help, Beijing must clearly find itself in the international role of the aggressor. Only then can Japan count on both sides accepting that the casus foederis has occurred.

Before it comes to that,Washingtonwill try everything to avoid open war between the three superpowers. To do this, it will, in advance, not only threaten China with consequences, but also pressure Japan to show more restraint. Should, however, war be unavoidable, it must be assumed that theUSAwill not immediately launch a large-scale attack on Chinese forces. In case of a military confrontation it is conceivable that the White House will at first threaten to intervene in the conflict if China does not cease hostilities within a certain period (parallel to this, the USA would have to effect the cessation of SDF activities). Should such a diplomatic initiative come to naught, the American government will have no other option but to keep its word. Otherwise theUSAwould lose its credibility as an ally not only in East Asia, but also in Europe and theMiddle East– with massive consequences for its claim to be the leading global power.

In the initial phases of a military escalation, the Pentagon would exercise great caution. It would at first support Japanese units, without directly conducting combat operations of its own troops against Chinese soldiers. Such an approach can be gleaned from the the Interim Report on the Revision of the Guidelines for U.S.-Japan Defense Cooperation (1997), published on 8 October 2014: “In case of an armed attack against Japan, Japan will have primary responsibility to repel the attack. The United States will provide support, including strike operations as appropriate.“ [97] The White House will additionally and repeatedly attempt to offer China and Japan a face-saving retreat in order to contribute to a de-escalation of the situation. Such hope has historic precedents in the 1962 Sino-Indian War and the 1979 Sino-Vietnamese War: should the territorial conflict escalate, the USA could rely on China to carry out short punitive military actions only, followed by a retreat to the status quo ante. This means that the door to avoiding a comprehensive casus foederis in East Asia would stay open, which would avoid a war betweenChina and theUSA.

Only if the Chinese leadership were to take massive military action against the neighbour, and if in the context of which, e.g., missile strikes were to hit American bases in Okinawa, a stronger military reaction byWashingtonwould have to be reckoned with. If this were the case, the nuclear powersUSAandChinawould have to consider how far they are willing to go, while staying below the threshold of nuclear war.

6. Conclusion

A de-escalation of the naval rivalries is difficult to imagine in the short to medium term, given the decision makers’ motives and the above-mentioned forces in Sino-Japanese relations driving the conflict. This was again shown on 10 November 2014 during the APEC CEO Summit in Beijing, when Xi Jingping and Shinzo Abe met for the first time in their roles as head of state and head of government, respectively. The meeting became possible because three days previously both sides had agreed on a Four Point Consensus to improve bilateral relations.[98] Any hopes for a breakthrough that would solve the numerous bilateral problems were immediately dashed, however. The meeting between Xi and Abe was icy, to which the host’s negative body language before the handshake contributed considerably. After the APEC Summit both sides argued about the correct interpretation of the Four Point Consensus: did Japan or did it not acknowledge the existence of the territorial conflict in this document?[99]

A one-sided American policy which only pursues the goal of de-escalation would therefore be destined to fail. For the time being, the USAcan do nothing, but focus all its energy on stabilising the status quo. To this end, it could use its own experience, which should be targeted towards improving communication between the conflict parties.[100] Establishing a direct hotline between the governments of China and Japan would be judicious, as would be the installation of crisis telephones between the Coast Guards and the air and naval forces. Both sides have already negotiated this; up to now, however, without any result.[101] At the end of September 2014, China and Japan again declared that they wanted to negotiate the installation of a maritime crisis telephone.[102] The Four Points Consensus of 7 November 2014 also mentions the intention to set up a mechanism to manage conflicts. In January 2015, the official consultations on the creation of a hotline were continued.[103]

The establishment of the Code of Conduct for the East China Sea, as suggested by Taiwan, would also be helpful, but will probably, be scuppered by China. The Code for Unplanned Encounters at Sea adopted at the 2014 Western Pacific Naval Symposium, among whose 21 member states are the USA, China and Japan, can thus be regarded as a success.[104] This document, however, is not international law, it is nothing more than a statement of intent. In the course of the bilateral talks between Obama and Xi during the Beijing APEC Summit, the defence ministers of both sides published a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) which contains codes of conduct that should prevent unplanned confrontations of the air and naval forces.[105] This document is a step forward, even if the USA and China state that no commitments under international law result from this MoU. It shows an awareness of problems and a readiness to act. China and Japan could take a leaf out of this Memorandum.

At its core, the status quo in the East China Sea is guaranteed by the American policy of rebalancing and by the clear security guarantee that the Security Treaty of 1960 also covers the Senkaku Islands. This way Washington tries to curtail Chinese adventures pre-emptively and early on. Of course the USA uses the common diplomatic language to express this somewhat differently. It would also not speak of a policy of deterrence vis-à-visChina, even if this does not in any way change the character of its currentEast Asia policy.

The bilateral manoeuvres with Japanshow that the USAis concurrently preparing for an escalation of the conflict. There is not the slightest doubt that the Pentagon would immediately be capable of action in an escalating crisis – i.e. should the casus foederis occur. As long as the war is not waged, the manoeuvres training for it are part of the American-Japanese policy of deterrence.

High-ranking representatives of the USarmed forces do not regard the future with great optimism. In his assessment of the Pentagon’s QDR of March 2014, General Martin E. Dempsey, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, looks at the next ten years with scepticism: “[…] I expect the risk of interstate conflict in East Asia to rise“.[106] This assessment is in line with that of Captain James Fanell, Director of Intelligence and Information Operations at US Pacific Fleet. He stated in the middle of February 2014 that China carried out an amphibious exercise at the end of 2013 to train the destruction of Japanese forces in the East China Sea. The Chinese armed forces were preparing for a “short sharp war“[107] to seize the Senkaku/Diaoyu Islands.

This would challenge the Obama administration; the casus foederis could become a reality sooner than expected. Such a development would have massive ramifications for the American position as a global power. The USA is already massively in debt; the armed forces complain of cuts and point out - as they did in the QDR 2014 - first repercussions for their operational readiness. Given the turmoil that can be expected on the global (financial) markets, the debt level will continue to rise should the casus foederis, and with it the cost of waging war, become a reality.

What can also be expected is domestic political resistance should it become clear that the USA will go to war against China for – to put it polemically – approx. 6 sqkm of barren island and rock formations. After the campaigns in Afghanistanand Iraqthe American public will not react with any great enthusiasm, should it again have to go to war for people living far away. Opinion polls of August 2014 show that 54% of the American public support the Obama Administration’s airstrikes against the Islamic State. This should, however, not lead to the conclusion that this also applies to the employment of ground troops. 51% of those questioned were worried that the USA could be drawn too far into the conflict.[108] Further polls from 2013 and 2014 confirm this trend. They show that the majority of the American public is against US interventions in Syria and Ukraine.[109] Discussions initiated by American researchers whether it would benefit stable relations between the USA and China to drop Taiwan now should be seen in the light of such tendencies.[110] The same applies to the suggestion, formulated by Hugh White a few years ago, that Washington and Beijing should decide on two spheres of influence in East Asia, in order to guard against a serious bilateral crisis.[111]

It becomes clear why the USAwill do everything so that there will be no casus foederis in East Asia. Should this happen, Washington will find itself between a rock and a hard place. If the USA stands by its guarantees, there will be war with China. Should this escalate, situations may be envisaged that would make the Ukraine Crisis of 2014 look like a bout of shadow boxing between the West and Russia.[112] If the USA, however, were to desert Japan, its days as a regional hegemon which is respected by most East Asian states would be counted - with possible global domino effects. The trust of numerous allies and security partners would be shattered, with incalculable consequences for the security architecture in Europe, the Middle East, as well asEast Asia.


I would like to thank Roman Krtsch, Thomas Lindenblatt, Günther Schmid, Jörn Dosch, Reinhard Drifte, Hanns W. Maull, Shinsuke Toda and the three anonymous reviewers of the Austrian Military Journal for their suggestions and critical comments.

[1] cf. The World Bank: World Development Indicators database. Gross domestic product 2013, Washington D.C., 22 September 2014 (, 17 November 2014).

[2] Current analyses of the Senkaku/Diaoyi Islands dispute: James Manicom, Bridging Troubled Waters. China, Japan, and Maritime Order in the East China Sea, Georgetown University Press, Washington D.C., 2014. Reinhard Drifte, ‘The Japan-China Confrontation Over the Senkaku/Diaoyu Islands. Between „shelving“ and „dispute escalation“’, in, The Asia-Pacific Journal: Japan Focus, no. 3, 28 July 2014 (, 17 November 2014). International Crisis Group (ICG), ‘Old Scores and New Grudges. Evolving Sino-Japanese Tensions’, Asia Report no. 258, Brussels, 24 July 2014. ICG, ‘Dangerous Waters. China-Japan Relations on the Rocks’, Asia Report no. 245, Brussels, 8 April 2013. Tatsushi Arai, Shihoko Goto, Zheng Wang (eds): Clash of National Identities. China, Japan, and the East China Sea Territorial Dispute, Woodrow Wilson Center/George Mason University,WashingtonD.C., February 2013.

[3] cf. Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Japan: Japanese Territory. Information about the Senkaku Islands, Tokio, 4 April 2014 (, 17 November 2014). State Council Information Office of the People’s Republic of China: Diaoyu Dao, an Inherent Territory of China, Beijing, 25 Sptember 2012 (, 17 November 2014). Ministry of Foreign Affairs/Republic of China (Taiwan): The Republic of China’s Sovereignty Claims over the Diaoyutai Islands and the East China Sea Peace Initiative, Taipeh 2014 ( en/cp.aspx?n=38CD1D3C91067AEC#, 17 November 2014).

[4] cf. U.S. Energy Information Administration: East China Sea. Background, Washington D.C., 25 September 2012, p 5. Other sources list 40,000 sqkm. cf. Senkaku/Diaoyutai Islands - Competing Claims, Alexandria, n.d. (, 17 November 2014). The precise, officially recognized size of the disputed exclusive economic zones could not be determined.

[5] cf. Yukie Yoshikawa, ‘The US-Japan-China Mistrust Spiral and Okinotorishima’, in, The Asia-Pacific Journal: Japan Focus, 11 October 2007 (, 17 November 2014).

[6] cf. State Council Information Office of the People’s Republic ofChina 2012, l.c.

[7] cf. People’s Republic of China, Law on the Territorial Sea and the Contiguous Zone, Beijing, 25 February 1992 (, 17 November 2014).

[8] cf. Agreement between Japan and the United States of America Concerning the Ryukyu Islands and the Daito Islands, Washingon D.C./Tokio, 17 June 1971 ( texts/docs/19710617.T1E.html, 17 November 2014).

[9] cf. Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Japan, Japanese Territory. Senkaku Islands Q & A, Tokio, 5 June 2013 (, 17 November 2014).

[10] On the numerous aspects of international law cf. Martin Lohmeyer, To whom belong the Diaoyu/Senkaku Islands under public international Law?, Logos Verlag Berlin, Berlin 2009. Dai Tan, ‘The Diaoyu/Senkaku Dispute. Bridging the Cold Divide.’, in, Santa Clara Journal of International Law, no. 1/2006, p.134-168. Steven Wei Su: ‘The Territorial Dispute over the Tiaoyu/Senkaku Islands. An Update.’, in, Ocean Development & International Law, no. 1/2005, p.45-61. Chi Manjiao, ‘The Unhelpfulness of Treaty Law in Solving the Sino-Japan Sovereign Dispute over the Diaoyu Islands.’, in, University of Pennsylvania/East Asia Law Review, no. 2/2011, p.163-189.

[11] cf. Miyoshi Masahiro, Seabed Petroleum in the East China Sea. Law of the Sea Issues and the Prospects for Joint Development. Working Paper of the Woodrow Wilson Center,WashingtonD.C., 7 July 2011, p.3.

[12] cf. U.S. Energy Information Administration 2012, l.c., p.2.

[13] cf. Selig S. Harrison (ed.), Seabed Petroleum in Northeast Asia. Conflict or Cooperation?,WoodrowWilsonInternationalCenter for Scholars,WashingtonD.C. 2005, p.6.

[14] cf. U.S. Energy Information Administration, International Energy Outlook 2013,WashingtonD.C., July 2013, p.37.

[15] cf. U.S. Energy Information Administration 2012, l.c., p.3.

[16] cf. Peter Dutton, Scouting, Signaling, and Gatekeeping. Chinese Naval Operations in Japanese Waters and the International Law Implications, U.S. Naval War College/China Maritime Studies, no. 2, Newport, February 2009.

[17] cf. Michael McDevitt, ‘The East China Sea. The Place Where Sino-U.S. Conflict Could Occur.’, in, American Foreign Policy Interests, no. 2/2014, p.108.

[18] cf.Taiwan’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs/Republic ofChina (Taiwan) 2014, l.c.

[19] cf. Chris Wang, ‘Ma proposes East China Sea initiative’, in, Taipei Times, 6 August 2012 (, 17 November 2014).

[20] cf. International Monetary Fund (IMF), Direction of Trade Statistics. Yearbook 2013,WashingtonD.C., 27 September 2013, p.308.

[21] cf. IMF, Direction of Trade Statistics. Yearbook 2012,WashingtonD.C., 21 September 2012, p.304.

[22] cf. IMF 2013, l.c., p.308.

[23] cf. Japan External Trade Organization, JETRO survey. Analysis of Japan-China Trade in 2012 and outlook for 2013, Tokio, 19 February 2013 (, 17 November 2014). Japan External Trade Organization, JETRO survey. Analysis of Japan-China Trade in 2013 and outlook for 2014, Tokio, 28 February 2014 (, 17 November 2014).

[24] cf. Japan External Trade Organization, JETRO Global Trade and Investment Report, Tokio 2014, p.4.

[25] cf. Li Jiabao, ‘Tensions take toll on China-Japan FDI’, in, China Daily, 17 January 2014 (, 17 November 2014).

[26] cf. Shannon Tiezzi, ‘China-Japan-South Korea Hold FTA Talks Despite Political Tension’, in, The Diplomat, 5 March 2014 (, 17 November 2014).

[27] for background on the treaty cf. Reinhard Drifte, ‘From „Sea of Confrontation“ to „Sea of Peace, Cooperation and Friendship“? Japan Facing China in the East China Sea’, in, Japan aktuell, no. 3/2008, p.27-51.

[28] cf. Rana Mitter, China’s War with Japan 1937-1945. The Struggle for Survival, Allen Lane/Pinguin Books, London 2013. Yuma Totani, The Tokyo War Crimes Trial. The Pursuit of Justice in the Wake of World War II, Harvard University Press, Cambridge (Massachusetts) 2008. Iris Chang, The Rape of Nanking. The Forgotten Holocaust of World War II, Basic Books,New York 1997.

[29] cf. Hal Gold, Unit 731 Testimony, Tuttle Publishing, North Clarendon 1996.

[30] cf. About Yasukuni Shrine. History, Tokio, n.d. ( html, 3 September 2014).

[31] Government of Japan, National Security Strategy, Tokio, 17 December 2013a, p.12.

[32] Government of Japan, National Defense Program Guidelines for FY 2014 and beyond, Tokio, 17 December 2013b, p.3.

[33] ibid.

[34] cf. Pew Research Center, Global Opposition to U.S. Surveillance and Drones, but Limited Harm to America’s Image. Many in Asia Worry about Conflict with China,WashingtonD.C., 14 July 2014, pp.39, 64, 68.

[35] cf. The Genron NPO/China Daily, The 9th Japan-China Public Opinion Poll. Analysis Report on the Comparative Data, Tokio - Peking, 12 August 2013, pp.4-6, 12f, 18, 28. The Genron NPO/China Daily, The 10th Japan-China Public Opinion Poll. Analysis Report on the Comparative Data, Tokio -Peking, 9 September 2014, pp.3, 5f, 16, 34.

[36] cf. Government of Japan, Cabinet Decision on Development of Seamless Security Legislation to Ensure Japan’s Survival and Protect its People, Tokio, 1 July 2014 ( 23e_000273.html, 17 November 2014).

[37] It must be added that in the meantime Prime Minister Abe has adopted the statements of the previous governments which contain apologies for crimes committed by Japan (e.g. the 1993 Kono Statement and the 1995 Murayama Statement). Because of numerous comments that point in a different direction, some observers, however, doubt Abe’s sincerity. cf Narusawa Muneo, ‘Abe Shinzo, a Far-Right Denier of History’, in, The Asia-Pacific Journal: Japan Focus, no. 1, 14 January 2013 (, 17 November 2014) Abe’s behaviour of regularly sending ritual offerings to the shrine in order to compensate for staying away from it contributes to the doubts. cf. Kwan Weng Kin, ‘Abe sends offering to Yasukuni shrine. No visit by Japan’s PM but his gesture angers China. Move may scupper talks’, in, The Straits Times, 18 October 2014 (LexisNexis)

[38] cf. also Mike Mochizuki, Samuel Parkinson Porter, ‘Japan under Abe: toward Moderation or Nationalism?’, in, The Washington Quarterly, no. 4, Fall 2013, p.25-41.

[39] cf. China Daily, ‘China defense budget to increase 12.2% in 2014’, 5 March 2014 (, 17 November 2014). Department of Defense, Annual Report to Congress. Military and Security Developments Involving the People’s Republic of China 2014,WashingtonD.C. 2014, p.43.

[40] cf. ibid.

[41] cf. International Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS), The Military Balance 2008, London 2008, pp.376 & 384.

[42] cf. IISS, The Military Balance 2014, London 2014, p.250.

[43] cf. Kiyoshi Takenaka, ‘Japan defense budget request highest ever as Abe boosts military’, in, The Japan Times, 29 August 2014 (, 17 November 2014).

[44] cf. IISS 2014, l.c., p.251.

[45] cf. Ruairidh Villar, ‘With wary eye on China, Japan drill simulates retaking island’, in, Reuters, 22 May 2014 (, 17 November 2014).

[46] Government ofJapan 2013b, l.c., p.14.

[47] cf. Bloomberg, China Monthly Foreign Exchange Reserves, as of September 2014 (, 17 November 2014).

[48] cf. International Monetary Fund, Japan. International Reserves and Foreign Currency Liquidity, Washington D.C., as of 10 November 2014 ( jpn/eng/curjpn.htm, 17 November 2014).

[49] cf. Central Intelligence Agency, The World Factbook. Country Comparison/Public Debt, Washington D.C. 2014 ( name=Japan&countrycode=ja&regionCode=eas&rank=1#ja, 17 November 2014). It must be added that a high percentage of Japanese public sector debt is held domestically. Whether or not the data on Chinese debt is actually true cannot be verified.

[50] cf. The World Bank, Data (current USD), Washington D.C. 2014 ( NY.GDP.MKTP.CD?page=4, 17 November 2014).

[51] cf. U.S. Department of the Treasury (Bureau of the Fiscal Service), The Debt to the Penny and Who Holds It, Washington D.C. 2014 (, 19 November 2014).

[52] on the history of the USA in East Asia cf. James I. Matray (ed.): East Asia and the United States. An Encyclopedia of Relations Since 1784, Volume One (A-M) + Volume Two (N-Z), Greenwood Press, Westport - London 2002. Roger Buckley: The United States in the Asia-Pacific since 1945,CambridgeUniversity Press, Cambridge 2002.

[53] Good accounts of East Asia’s history, as well as of the relations between the USA, China, and the Soviet Union can be found here: Michael Yahuda, The International Politics of the Asia-Pacific, 3rd revised edition, Routledge, Abingdon - New York 2011. Gottfried-Karl Kindermann, Der Aufstieg Ostasiens in der Weltpolitik 1840 bis 2000, Deutsche Verlags-Anstalt, Stuttgart - München 2001. Xuewu Gu, Ausspielung der Barbaren. China zwischen den Supermächten in der Zeit des Ost-West-Konfliktes, Nomos Verlagsgesellschaft, Baden-Baden 1998.

[54] Concerning Sino-American relations cf. David Shambaugh (ed.), Tangled Titans. The United States and China, Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, Lanham 2013. Jeffrey A. Bader, Obama and China’s Rise. An Insider’s Account of America’s Asia Strategy, Brookings Institution Press, Washington D.C. 2012. Aaron L. Friedberg, A Contest for Supremacy. China, America, and the Struggle for Mastery in Asia, W. W. Norton & Company, New York - London 2011. Warren I. Cohen, America’s Response to China. A History of Sino-American Relations. 5th edition, Columbia University Press, New York 2010. Martin Wagener, Hegemonialer Wandel in Südostasien? Der machtpolitische Aufstieg Chinas als sicherheitsstrategische Herausforderung der USA, Trier 2009. Richard C. Bush and Michael E. O’Hanlon, A War Like No Other. The Truth about China’s Challenge to America, John Wiley & Sons, Hoboken 2007. Richard Bernstein and Ross H. Munro, The Coming Conflict with China, Alfred A. Knopf, New York 1997. In German discourse one voice has been extremely sceptical: Reinhard Wolf, ‘Auf Kollisionskurs. Warum es zur amerikanisch-chinesischen Konfrontation kommen muss‘, in, Zeitschrift für Politik, no. 4/2012, p.393-409. On the reasons why the USA and China nevertheless cooperate for the time being: Martin Wagener, ‘Anomalien des Realismus? Über die wundersam kooperative China-Politik der USA‘, in, Jochen Hils, Jürgen Wilzewski, Reinhard Wolf (eds.), Assertive Multilateralism and Preventive War. Die Außen- und Weltordnungspolitik der USA von Clinton zu Obama aus theoretischer Sicht, Nomos Verlagsgesellschaft, Baden-Baden 2012, p.261-304.

[55] This classification follows the logic of structural realism. In the present case, hegemony means that a single power is clearly superior to all other powers as regards the armed forces (defence budget, power projection capability), the economy (percentage of the global GDP), and the capability to innovate (especially concerning military research and development). This, at present, applies to the USA in East Asia. On the derivation of the criteria and the effects of hegemony cf. William C. Wohlforth, ‘The Stability of a Unipolar World’, in, International Security, no. 1, summer 1999, p.5-41.

[56] On the Chinese armed forces cf. Dennis J. Blasko, The Chinese Army Today. Tradition and transformation for the 21st century. 2nd revised and updated edition, Routledge, Abingdon - New York 2012. Richard D. Fisher, China’s Military Modernization. Building for Regional and Global Reach, Stanford University Press, Stanford 2008. Two of the best papers on the PLA are: Bernard D. Cole, The Great Wall at Sea. China’s Navy in the Twenty-First Century. 2nd edition, Naval Institute Press, Annapolis 2010. Toshi Yoshihara and James R. Holmes, Red Star over the Pacific. China’s Rise and the Challenge to U.S. Maritime Strategy, Naval Institute Press, Annapolis 2010.

[57] cf. Martin Wagener, ‚Das Ende des Zeitalters der Flugzeugträger? Wie eine neue Rakete Chinas die Spielregeln im westlichen Pazifik verändern könnte‘, in, Neue Zürcher Zeitung, no. 16, 20 January 2011, p.9.

[58] China’s 2013 Defence White Paper states: “Meanwhile, however, the world is still far from being tranquil. There are signs of increasing hegemonism, power politics and neo-interventionism. […] Some country has strengthened its Asia-Pacific military alliances, expanded its military presence in the region, and frequently makes the situation there tenser. On the issues concerning China’s territorial sovereignty and maritime rights and interests, some neighboring countries are taking actions that complicate or exacerbate the situation, and Japan is making trouble over the issue of the Diaoyu Islands.“ Information Office of the State Council/The People’s Republic of China, The Diversified Employment of China’s Armed Forces, Beijing, April 2013 (, 18 November 2014).

[59] The concept of a Chinese anti-access strategy directed against the USA can be found in every annual report on China’s military strength published by the Pentagon (access to the most recent editions:, 18 November 2014).

[60] cf. Department of Defense (Air-Sea Battle Office), Air-Sea Battle. Service Collaboration to Address Anti-Access & Area Denial Challenges, Washington D.C., May 2013. The Air-Sea Battle approach has an impact on the operative level especially. It must not be confused with the USA’s National Security Strategy.

[61] cf. Carnes Lord and Andrew S. Erickson (eds.), Rebalancing U.S. Forces. Basing and Forward Presence in the Asia-Pacific, Naval Institute Press, Annapolis 2014. Mark E. Manyin, Pivot to the Pacific? The Obama Administration’s „Rebalancing“ Toward Asia, CRS Report for Congress (R42448),WashingtonD.C., 28 March 2012.

[62] Hillary Clinton, ‘America’s Pacific Century’, in, Foreign Policy, 11 Oktober 2011 (http://www.foreignpolicy. com/articles/2011/10/11/americas_pacific_century, 18 November 2014). In its printed version the article was published in November 2011.

[63] Barack Obama, Remarks to the Australian Parliament, Canberra, 17 November 2011 (, 18 November 2014).

[64] Department of Defense, Sustaining U.S. Global Leadership. Priorities for 21st Century Defense,WashingtonD.C., 5 January 2012, p.2.

[65] Department of Defense, Quadrennial Defense Review 2014,WashingtonD.C., 4 March 2014, p.VIII.

[66] Department of Defense, Quadrennial Defense Review Report,WashingtonD.C., 6 February 2006, p.29.

[67] cf. Wagener 2009, l.c., p.446-601.

[68] The initiatives are documented on the homepage of the Bureau of East Asian and Pacific Affairs in the State Department; since 12 Juli 2013 Assistant Secretary for East Asian and Pacific Affairs has been Daniel R. Russel. (, 18 November 2014).

[69] cf. Ian F. Fergusson, Mark A. McMinimy, Brock R. Williams, The Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP). Negotiations and Issues for Congress, CRS Report for Congress (R42694),WashingtonD.C., 7 November 2014.

[70] cf. Office of the United States Trade Representative, Overview of the Trans Pacific Partnership, Washington D.C., n.d. (, 19 November 2014).

[71] Department of Defense, 4 March 2014, l.c., p.34.

[72] Nuclear powered and/or armed ships were barred from enteringNew Zealand ports. Upon this,Washington suspended its treaty obligations towardsWellington and restricted its security-political cooperation withNew Zealand.

[73] cf. Samuel J. Locklear, Statement before the Senate Committee on Armed Services on U.S. Pacific Command Posture, Washington D.C., 25 March 2014. Samuel J. Locklear, Statement before the House Armed Services Committee on U.S. Pacific Command Posture, Washington D.C., 5 March 2013. Chuck Hagel, The United States’ Contribution to Regional Stability, The 13th IISS Asia Security Summit/The Shangri-la Dialogue, Singapur, 31 May 2014. Chuck Hagel, The US Approach to Regional Security, The 12th IISS Asia SecuritySummit/The Shangri-la Dialogue, Singapur, 1 June 2013.

[74] cf. Scott Cheney-Peters, ‘Japan to Provide Vietnam Patrol Boats Next Year’, in, U.S. Naval Institute News, 2 June 2014 (, 19 November 2014).

[75] cf. Kwan Weng Kin, ‘Aquino backs Japan’s bid to widen defence role’, in, The Straits Times, 25 June 2014 (LexisNexis).

[76] cf. Department of Defense, Total Military Personnel and Dependent End Strength, as of 30 September 2014, Washington D.C. 2014 (, 19 November 2014).

[77] cf. Shirley A. Kan, Guam. U.S. Defense Deployments, CRS Report for Congress (RS22570),WashingtonD.C., 28 October 2014.

[78] cf. Alan D. Romberg, American Interests in the Senkaku/Diaoyu Issue. Policy Considerations, Prepared for the CNA Maritime Asia Project: Workshop on Japan’s Territorial Disputes,WashingtonD.C., 11 April 2013.

[79] cf. Akira Kato, ‘The United States. The Hidden Actor in the Senkaku Islands’, Asia Pacific Bulletin of the East-West Center, no. 205, Honolulu, 2 April 2013.

[80] cf. Mark E. Manyin, Senkaku (Diaoyu/Diaoyutai) Islands Dispute. U.S. Treaty Obligations, CRS Report for Congress (R42761), Washington D.C., 22 January 2013, p.5f. On the historical background to the US position cf. Robert D. Eldridge, The Origins of U.S. Policy in the East China Sea Islands Dispute. Okinawa’s Reversion and the Senkaku Islands, Routledge, Abingdon - New York 2014. Jean-Marc F. Blanchard, ‘The U.S. Role in the Sino-Japanese Dispute over the Diaoyu (Senkaku) Islands, 1945-1971’, in, The China Quarterly, vol. 161, March 2000, p.95-123.

[81] James R. Kendall’s remarks are one-sided and imprecise. cf. James R. Kendall, ‘Deterrence by Presence to Effective Response. Japan’s Shift Southward’, in, Orbis, no. 4, Fall 2010, p.612f.

[82] Richard L. Armitage, Remarks and Q & R at the Japan National Press Club, Tokio, 2 February 2004 (, 19 November 2014). The statement carried weight, because Armitage was regarded as theJapan specialist of the then US Administration.

[83] Treaty of Mutual Cooperation and Security between Japan und the United States of America, Washington D.C., 19 January 1960 (, 19 November 2014).

[84] cf. Department of State, Remarks With Vietnamese Foreign Minister Pham Gia Khiem, Hanoi, 30 October 2010 (, 19 November 2014).

[85] verbatim quote: “We don’t take a position on final sovereignty determinations with respect to Senkakus, but historically they have been administered by Japan and we do not believe that they should be subject to change unilaterally. And what is a consistent part of the alliance is that the treaty covers all territories administered by Japan. So this is not a new position, this is a consistent one.“ Barack Obama, Joint Press Conference with President Obama and Prime Minister Abe of Japan, Tokio, 24 April 2014 (, 19 November 2014).

[86] Concerning the discussion on the Philippines cf. John Nery, ‘Will the US defend “a few rocks“ in our sea?’, in, Philippines Daily Inquirer, 6 May 2014 (LexisNexis).

[87] cf. Martin Wagener, ‘Lessons from Preah Vihear. Thailand, Cambodia, and the Nature of Low-Intensity Border Conflicts’, in, Journal of Current Southeast Asian Affairs, no. 3/2011, p. 27-59.

[88] cf. The Japan Times, ‘Japan-China island tensions rise’, 23 September 2010 (LexisNexis). James J. Przystup, ‘Japan-China Relations. Troubled Waters’, in, Comparative Connections, no. 3, October 2010, p. 104-110. James J. Przystup, ‘Japan-China Relations. Troubled Waters: Part II’, in, Comparative Connections, no. 4, January 2011, p. 117-126.

[89] cf. Ministry of Defense, Defense of Japan 2014 (here: extracts from the Annual White Paper), Tokio 2014 (, 19 November 2014).

[90] cf. ibid.

[91] cf. Robert Ayson, Desmond Ball, ‘Can a Sino-Japanese War Be Controlled?’, in, Survival, no. 6, December 2014/January 2015, p.135-165.

[92] Further scenarios that could lead to a war in the East China Sea can be found in: Nick Bisley, Brendan Taylor, Conflict in the East China Sea: Would ANZUS Apply?, Australia-China Relations Institute/University of Technology, Sydney, November 2014, p. 34-50.

[93] This was suggested, inter alia, by Shigeru Ishiba, from 2007 to 2008 Japanese Defence Minister. cf. Chico Harlan, ‘Japan makes a shift to the right’, in, The Washington Post, 21 September 2012 (LexisNexis).

[94] There are a number of indicators that the bureaucratic machinery on both sides will, in a crisis situation, not be capable of appropriate actions. cf. Richard C. Bush, The Perils of Proximity. China-Japan Security Relations, Brookings Institution Press,WashingtonD.C. 2010, p.124-190.

[95] cf. Onodera Itsunori, Extra Press Conference by the Defense Minister, Tokio, 5 February 2013 (, 19.11.2014)

[96] cf. Yonhap News Agency, China warns Japan over reported plan to shoot down drones, 22 October 2013 (LexisNexis).

[97] Department of Defense, The Interim Report on the Revision of the Guidelines for U.S.-Japan Defense Cooperation,WashingtonD.C., 8 October 2014, p. 4.

[98] cf. Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Japan, Japan-China Relations. Regarding Discussions toward Improving Japan-China Relations, Tokio, 7 November 2014 (, 19.11.2014). The Chinese version is slightly different from the English translation. cf. Xinhua News Agency, China, Japan reach four-point agreement to improve ties, 7 November 2014 (LexisNexis).

[99] cf. Kor Kian Beng, ‘China, Japan spar again over islands. Latest spat mars hope of better ties since their leaders’ recent meeting’, in, The Straits Times, 13 November 2014 (LexisNexis).

[100] All experts regard the limited channels of communication between China and Japan as a problem. cf. Nadine Godehardt, Alexandra Sakaki, Gudrun Wacker: ‘Sino-japanischer Inselstreit und europäische Beiträge zur Deeskalation’, in, Volker Perthes, Barbara Lippert (eds.), Ungeplant bleibt der Normalfall. Acht Situationen, die politische Aufmerksamkeit verdienen, SWP-Studie no. 16, Berlin, September 2013, p. 27.

[101] cf. James Przystup, John Bradford, James Manicom: Japan-China Maritime Confidence Building And Communications Mechanisms, PacNet, Nr. 67,Honolulu, 20 August 2013.

[102] cf. The Japan News, Japan, China head back to table over maritime hotline, 27 September 2014 (LexisNexis).

[103] cf. Shannon Tiezzi, ‘China, Japan Try to Tamp Down Maritime Tensions’, in, The Diplomat, 12 January 2015 (, 9 March 2015).

[104] cf. Western Pacific Naval Symposium, Code for Unplanned Encounters at Sea, Version 1.0, Qingdao, April 2014 (, 19 November 2014).

[105] cf. Department of Defense, Memorandum of Understanding Between the Department of Defense of the United States of America and the Ministry of National Defense of the People’s Republic of China Regarding the Rules of Behavior for Safety of Air and Maritime Encounters, Washington D.C., 9./10 November 2014.

[106] Martin E. Dempsey, ‘Chairman’s Assessment of the Quadrennial Defense Review’, in, Department of Defense, 4 March 2014, l.c., p. 61.

[107] quoted from U.S. Naval Institute News, ‘Navy Official: China Training for „Short Sharp War“ with Japan’, 20 February 2014 (, 19 November 2014). At the beginning of November 2014 it became known that Fanell was removed from his position, allegedly because of his remark.

[108] cf. Pew Research Center, Support for U.S. Airstrikes in Iraq; Concern About Getting Too Involved, Washington D.C., 18 August 2014 (, 19 November 2014).

[109] cf. Pew Research Center, Public Opinion Runs Against Syrian Airstrikes, Washington D.C., 3 September 2013 (, 19 November 2014). Pew Research Center, Most Say U.S. Should “Not Get Too involved“ in Ukraine Situation, Washington D.C., 11 March 2014 (, 19 November 2014).

[110] cf. John J. Mearsheimer, ‘Taiwan’s Dire Straits’, in, The National Interest, no. 130, March/April 2014, p. 29-39. The homepage advertises the article with the words “Say Goodbye to Taiwan“ (, 19 November 2014).

[111] cf. Hugh White, ‘Power Shift. Australia’s Future Between Washington and Beijing’, Quarterly Essay, no. 39, 2010.

[112] This, of course, is also connected with the fact that the casus foederis inEast Asia would have a direct effect and immediately take on a global-strategic dimension. On this level, theUkraine conflict cannot be compared to the situation inEast Asia.