China Sends Coast Guard Ships Close to Disputed East China Sea Islands

On Monday, China announced it had sailed three coast guard ships through the territorial waters claimed by Japan that surround the Senkaku/Diaoyu Islands; islands China also claims as its sovereign territory. The move follows the visit of U.S. Secretary James Mattis to Tokyo where he reiterated that the U.S. recognizes the Senkaku Islands as covered by Article 5, the clause of the alliance stating the U.S. will defend Japanese territory.
The Cipher Take: This is the fourth such transit by Chinese coast guard vessels this year, which puts it on pace with last year’s total of 36 transits through the disputed waters. Like its South China Sea claims, China believes these islands are part of its historic territory, and that the foreign powers who created the modern international system have deprived it of its sovereign rights. As such, China is unlikely to abandon the claim anytime soon. On Tuesday, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson spoke with his Japanese counterpart and reiterated Mattis’ statements. For a disputed territory, U.S. commitment doesn’t get much stronger than that. Expect the impasse between Japan and China, and therefore regional tensions, to continue.


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