As Japan and China increase naval and air activity around the disputed Senkaku/Diaoyu islands in the East China Sea, the United States is steadily increasing its active involvement to reassure Tokyo and send a warning to Beijing. But Beijing may seek an opportunity to challenge U.S. primacy in what China considers its territorial waters.
The United States is monitoring Chinese air activity from E-3 Sentry aircraft based at Kadena air base on Okinawa in response to increasing incidents of Chinese combat and surveillance aircraft shadowing U.S. P-3C and C-130 flights near the Ryukyu islands, according to Japanese and Korean media reports. Chinese pilots are more actively shadowing U.S. military aircraft flying through the airspace between China and Japan. Chinese aircraft have also reportedly violated Japanese airspace near the disputed Senkaku/Diaoyu islands several times since mid-December, prompting Japan to send its aircraft, including F-15Js, to monitor Chinese actions. ?
The use of E-3s would bolster U.S. coordination and provide advance warning of possible encounters with Chinese aircraft, but its purpose may also be to offset some of Japan’s weaknesses in the area. Japan’s Defense Ministry wants to supplement its early warning capability — its radar station on Miyako Island, near Okinawa, cannot detect Chinese aircraft flying over the sea at low altitudes. As the Japanese government continues to review its policies and capabilities for dealing with China’s assertive stance on the disputed islands, Tokyo has identified several gaps in its ability to address Chinese actions. Japan will depend on the United States to fill these gaps as its military purchases new systems, shifts its existing forces and adjusts its rules of engagement.