The decision triggered widespread anti-Japanese demonstrations in China, resulting in extensive damage to Japanese companies operating there.
Eventually China dampened the popular response, but it has since repeatedly stated its intent to assert its own administrative control over the disputed islands.
Their actions could precipitate an armed response by either side. First, Japan and China are already finding it difficult to read each other's actions. policymakers have sought to lessen tensions but have also taken steps to clarify the U. Early this year, as military interactions raised the potential for conflict, Clinton restated the U. position that it would not accept any unilateral attempt to wrest control of the islands. assurances could lead Tokyo to overestimate Washington's response and to act in a manner that would increase the chance for confrontation. Although this seems highly unlikely today, either party could take military action to assert sovereignty over the disputed islands.
Political miscalculation of either country's intent or resolve, as well as miscalculation of the U. Past Japanese government leasing of the Senkaku/Diaoyu Islands effectively kept nationalist activists—Japanese as well as Chinese and Taiwanese—at bay. Still, Beijing could miscalculate Washington's commitment to defend Japan and/or seek to test that commitment. To date, however, Tokyo has tended to err on the side of caution in planning and exercises with U. forces, and it is unlikely Japan would act without evidence of U. Rising domestic pressures or an unexpected opportunity for a fait accompli could lead to a decision by either government to establish military control over the territory.
Preventing armed conflict between Japan and China over the Senkaku/Diaoyu Islands dispute ultimately depends on Beijing and Tokyo finding a mutually acceptable framework for managing their differences.
An active diplomatic effort to embed the island dispute in a stronger and more constructive Japan-China relationship will be needed and could be encouraged by Washington. The first, and most preferable, is a bilateral diplomatic effort.
The United States, as a treaty ally of Japan but with vital strategic interests in fostering peaceful relations with China, has a major stake in averting such a clash and resolving the dispute, if possible.
Sino-Japanese tensions in the East China Sea have been building steadily since 2010, when a Chinese fishing trawler rammed two Japan Coast Guard (JCG) vessels in waters near the Senkaku/Diaoyu Islands and Japan detained the captain.
In stressful and ambiguous times, when decision-making is compressed by the speed of modern weapons systems, the risk of human error is higher. So-called rules of engagement (ROEs), intended to guide and control the behavior of local actors, are typically general in scope and leave room for personal interpretation that may lead to actions that escalate a crisis situation. Both former secretary of state Hillary Clinton and former secretary of defense Leon Panetta clearly stated that the United States will defend Japan against any aggression, and on November 29, 2012, the U. Senate passed a resolution accompanying the 2013 National Defense Authorization Act to demonstrate congressional support for the Obama administration's commitment to Japan's defense.
Compounding the risk of unintended escalation between Chinese and Japanese air and naval units is the unpredictable involvement of third parties such as fishermen or civilian activists who may attempt to land on the islands. As tensions escalated late last year, Washington increased its deployments in and around Japan.
China's Marine Surveillance agency intensified its patrols of the waters in and around the islands, and China's Bureau of Fisheries patrols followed suit.
The JCG in turn increased its patrols and put them on 24/7 alert.
This escalation in asserting sovereignty claims through the use of patrols, populating the islands, and perhaps even military defense of the territory could lead to heightened tensions between the two countries and whip up nationalist sentiments, potentially limiting the capacity of leaders to peacefully manage the dispute. The policies for preventing such a conflict include the following steps. Privately, Washington could also communicate to both capitals the need to avoid statements and assertions that would incite popular sentiments on the dispute and encourage peaceful dispute resolution. Japan's leaders remain committed to limiting their use of military force to defensive missions. To date, there has been little need for Japan to integrate its civilian maritime policing with its defense operations.