Tensions over disputed islands in the East China Sea reached new levels as a pair of Japanese fighters locked radar on a pair of Chinese fighters in what is billed by the Financial Times as a “Near Dogfight“.

The incident took place on June 17, but reports are just now surfacing.

A near dogfight between Japan and China — according to the latter, involving the rare use of fire-control radar to target its warplanes — has further escalated tensions between the two powers amid fears that clashes are growing more provocative.

China and Japan have spent much of the past two years embroiled in an increasingly heated dispute over territorial claims in the East China Sea, with both sides launching manoeuvres in support of this.

The latest clash on June 17 threatened to turn dangerous, according to a statement by China’s ministry of defence on Monday, when Japanese warplanes used fire-control radar to “light up” Chinese counterparts and released infrared flares during evasive manoeuvres. Japan’s deputy chief of cabinet on Tuesday denied China’s claims.

Both sides agree a pair of Chinese SU-30 fighter-bombers encountered two Japanese F-15 fighters somewhere over the East China Sea, where China and Japan dispute ownership of a group of islands known in Japan as the Senkaku and China as the Diaoyu. The nations also claim overlapping Air Defence Identification Zones, which require foreign aircraft to identify themselves.

Ian Storey, of the Institute of South East Asian Studies in Singapore, said a radar lock by either side would be a “very dangerous move” because the targeted plane would have seconds to decide whether it was under attack and how to respond.

Japanese officials on Tuesday did not deny the claims that its aircraft had fired infrared decoy flares during the incident, a move that would be consistent with believing they were under attack.

Maritime tensions in the western Pacific are edging higher a week ahead of an international ruling on a dispute between China and the Philippines over sovereignty claims in the South China Sea.

An arbitration court in The Hague is expected by analysts to rule in favour of the Philippines and invalidate many if not all of Chinese claims in the South China Sea. China has already rejected the arbitration proceedings.

Senkaku Islands Dispute

Wikipedia has a lengthy discussion on the history of the Senkaku Islands Dispute.

On 14 January 1895, during the First Sino-Japanese War, Japan incorporated the islands under the administration of Okinawa, stating that it had conducted surveys since 1884 and that the islands were “terra nullius”, with there being no evidence to suggest that they had been under the Qing empire’s control.

After China lost the war, both countries signed the Treaty of Shimonoseki in April 1895 that stipulated, among other things, that China would cede to Japan “the island of Formosa together with all islands appertaining or belonging to said island of Formosa (Taiwan)”, but yet the treaty does not clearly define the geographical limits of the island of Formosa and the islands appertaining or belonging to Formosa ceded to Japan. The treaty was superseded in 1945 by the Treaty of San Francisco, which was signed between Japan and part of the Allied Powers in 1951 after Japan lost the Second World War.

In the treaty of San Francisco, Japan explicitly relinquished the control of Taiwan/Formosa together with all islands appertaining or belonging to it. There is a disagreement between the Japanese, PRC and ROC governments as to whether the islands are implied to be part of the “islands appertaining or belonging to said island of Formosa” in the Treaty of Shimonoseki.

The United States does not have an official position on the merits of the competing sovereignty claims, but the islands are included within the Treaty of Mutual Cooperation and Security between the United States and Japan, meaning that a defense of the islands by Japan would require the United States to come to Japan’s aid.

Senkaku Islands

senkaku Islands2

No one would care about these islands were it not for fishing and oil rights. Now, Japan and China are close to war over the islands and the US could potentially get drawn in.

Mike “Mish” Shedlock