East China Sea
In an alarming tit-for-tat June 9, Taiwan's defense ministry said that several Chinese fighter jets briefly entered the country's air defense identification zone, and the US took the unusual move of flying a C-40A military transport plane over Taiwan. The US overflight was assailed by Beijing's Taiwan Affairs Office as "an illegal act and a seriously provocative incident." This comes as the US is deploying two aircraft carrier strike groups to the Pacific—the San Diego-based USS Nimitz and the Yokosuka-based USS Ronald Reagan. These join the USS Theodore Roosevelt, also based in San Diego but now patrolling the Philippine Sea near Guam. This marks the first time in three years that three US strike gorups have been simultaneously deployed to the Pacific, in what is being seen as an explicit warning to China. The triple deployment follows accusations by Lt. Gen. Kevin Schneider, commander of US forces in Japan, that China is using the coronavirus crisis as a cover to push territorial claims in the South China Sea. "Through the course of the COVID crisis we saw a surge of maritime activity," Schneider told Reuters. (The Hill, The Hill, USNI News, Reuters, AP)
A new report published by the US-based Project 2049 Institute says that it is "a matter of time" before the People’s Republic of China launches a "short, sharp war" to take the disputed Senkaku Islands in the East China Sea—claimed by China as the Diaoyu Islands, but currently controlled by Japan. The report is entitled "White Warships and Little Blue Men" (PDF)—a reference to China's Coast Guard and Maritime Militia, both of which have seen a dramatic build-up in the past decade, along with the rapid modernization and expansion of the naval forces of the People's Liberation Army. We are not sure we share the assessment that the conflict will be "limited yet decisive," in the paraphrase of Epoch Times...
Okinawa's Gov. Takeshi Onaga on Oct. 13 revoked the approval issued by his predecessor for a landfill to relocate the US Marine Corps Air Station Futenma to a new site at the island's Cape Henoko. Sit-in protestors in front of Camp Schwab Marine Base at Henoko rejoiced as the announcement came over a live radio broadcast. Some took over the roadway to perform the island's traditional Kachashi dance in jubilation. Hiroji Yamashiro, director of the Okinawa Peace Movement Center, voiced defiance of anticipated efforts by Japan's central government to override the decision: "We will not lose to the governments of Japan and the United States. With the governor, we will continue to struggle to stop construction of the new US base." In March, Gov. Onaga had issued a stop-work order on the relocation, which the central government overruled. Protesters are demanding that the US Marines leave Okinawa entirely. (Kyodo, Oct. 14; BBC News, Ryukyu Shimpo, Oct. 13)
China's Qingdao Maritime Court on July 27 ruled that a lawsuit against ConocoPhillips China and China National Offshore Oil for a 2011 oil spill can proceed. The suit was brought by the China Biodiversity Conservation and Green Development Foundation and it the first case to proceed since the country revised a law (LoC backgrounder) allowing NGOs to directly sue polluters in the public interest. The Chinese government has already fined the companies approximately $258 million for the spill. Other cases are also pending under the law, which became effective on Jan. 1.
Pentagon chief Chuck Hagel toured Asia earlier this month ahead of Obama's coming visit, and at an April 10 stop in Ulan Bator signed a "joint vision" statement with his Mongolian counterpart Dashdemberel Bat-Erdene, calling for expanding military cooperation through joint training and assistance. "A strong US-Mongolia defense relationship is important as part of the American rebalance to the Asia-Pacific region," Hagel told a joint press conference. Bat-Erdene ruled out the possibility of hosting US forces, citing a Mongolian law that bars foreign military bases from the country. But the agreement is clearly aimed at extending US military encirclement of China. Days earlier, Hagel had lectured his hosts in Beijing over China's establishment of an air defense zone in the East China Sea. He also made a flat warning about the disputed Senkaku/Diaoyu islands, telling reporters: "We affirmed that since [the Senkaku Islands] are under Japan's administrative control, they fall under Article 5 of our Mutual Security Treaty." (AFP, April 10; Time, April 8)
In a slightly surreal case, Kyodo news agency reports April 20 that a Shanghai Maritime Court ordered the seizure of a vessel owned by Japanese shipping giant Mitsui OSK Lines at a port in Zhejiang province for failing to pay compensation in "a wartime contractual dispute." It seems that in 1936, Mitsui's predecessor, Daido Shipping Co, rented two ships on a one-year contract from China's Zhongwei Shipping Co. The ships were commandeered by the Imperial Japanese Navy, and later sank at sea. The suit was brought against Mitsui by grandsons of the founder of Zhongwei Shipping, and has been batted around in China's courts for years. In 2012, the Supreme People's Court rejected Mitsui's petition for retrial, affirming the Maritime Court's finding that the company must pay. The decision to seize the ships now seems pretty clearly retaliation for Japanese cabinet minister Keiji Furuya's visit to the Yasukuni shrine days earlier. Prime Minister Shinzo Abe himself sent a "ritual offering" to the shrine ahead of Japan's spring festival, which starts this week. All of this is happening (again less than coincidentally) exactly as Japan has started construction of a military radar station on Yonaguni Island—just 150 kilometers from the disputed gas-rich Senkaku archipelago, claimed by China as the Diaoyu Islands. (Reuters, Singapore Today, Xinhua, BBC News)
In a case of very disturbing bluster (but, we hope, still just bluster) Ukrainian parliamentarian Pavlo Rizanenko told the Western media that Ukraine may have to arm with nuclear weapons if the US and other world powers refuse to enforce a security pact that he said obliges them to act against Moscow's takeover of Crimea. "We gave up nuclear weapons because of this agreement," said Rizanenko of the Ukrainian Democratic Alliance for Reform (UDAR). "Now there's a strong sentiment in Ukraine that we made a big mistake." (KSDK, March 10) Rizanenko was refering to the 1994 Budapest Memorandum on Security Assurances. Late last month, Ukraine's parliament, the Verkhovna Rada, formally invoked the Memorandum. In their statement, lawmakers said: "Ukraine received guarantees of country's security in the 1994 Budapest memorandum on security assurances over Ukraine's accession to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty." (ITAR-TASS, Feb. 28)