How China and Japan Might Avoid Military Confrontation in the East China Sea
For over a year, the situation in the East China Sea has attracted global attention. Media across the world have wondered whether Japan and China are on the verge of an armed conflict. Think tanks (including my own) have considered what policy implications the dispute over small, uninhabited islands in the East China Sea could have for Washington, Tokyo, Beijing, and Seoul. Japanese and Chinese citizens have become deeply concerned that their nation’s sovereignty is being challenged, provoking a complex set of popular emotions and substantial political opportunity for nationalist activists.
But the emotions and antipathy that often accompany competing sovereignty claims risk military confrontation. Today, Chinese and Japanese militaries are increasingly finding themselves in close contact. With the island dispute as their backdrop, these maritime and air forces find themselves reacting to each other’s behavior and planning for the worst-case scenario. It is what militaries do. The anticipation of the need to defend sovereignty that is stimulated by territorial disputes, however, makes the stakes all that higher. Professional planning and calm reflection can often be affected by political pressure and popular sentiment.
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