Could it be the beginning of a ‘new cold war’? Last Monday evening, the United States flew two B-52 bombers over the disputed Senkaku Islands in a training exercise; similar to tactics taken both by the U.S. and Russia during the ‘old cold war’.
Over the last weekend, the Chinese publicly designated the disputed island territory to be within its own Air Defense Identification Zone (ADIZ) claiming that is now airspace that it controls. This is obviously disputed by both Japan and the United States. The announcement was the latest in an ongoing war of words between China and Japan over the islands ownership. It elicited an angry response from the Japanese government who called the announcement a “profoundly dangerous” and “unilateral” act that has “no validity whatsoever.” They also warned it “may cause unintended consequences.”
White House spokesman Josh Earnest said Tuesday that China’s new policy “is unnecessarily inflammatory.” Earnest said, “These are the kinds of differences that should not be addressed with threats or inflammatory language, but rather can and should be resolved diplomatically.” Earlier on Monday, Pentagon officials stated they would ignore requests from the Chinese for U.S. aircraft to identify themselves when in that airspace. The U.S. officially deems the Senkaku region as international airspace. Secretary of State John Kerry characterized it as an “escalatory action (that) will only increase tensions in the region and create risks of an incident.” The U.S. government has rallied around its ally Japan where thousands of U.S. troops are stationed as part of a security treaty.
The two unarmed B-52 aircraft, which required aerial refueling to make the flight from Guam were not intercepted by the Chinese, nor did the Chinese attempt to communicate with them. The B-52’s pilots did not identify themselves upon entering the disputed airspace either. The uninhabited Senkaku Islands, located in the East China Sea between Taiwan and Japan have been disputed for decades. The territory is valued for its fishing and shipping lanes but more recently, both China and Japan have expressed interest in tapping its potential oil wealth.
Beijing has dismissed the American position as unjustified and urged Washington to butt out of the territorial dispute. Chinese defense ministry spokesman, Col. Yang Yujun, on Sunday called such criticism “completely unreasonable,” “irresponsible” and “inappropriate,” telling the United States to stop taking sides and not send more “wrong signals” that could lead to a “risky move by Japan.”
China is moving its sole aircraft carrier, named Liaoning, Tuesday morning to head for the South China Sea. That’s where China has had territorial disputes with other Asian nations also, including the Philippines and Vietnam. The Chinese military makes no mention of the dispute in discussing the carriers movement but states it is in route to the South China Sea to conduct training and scientific experiments. With that said, it is worth note that to get to the South China Sea, the carrier group first has to travel directly through the East China Sea which is where the current dispute is.
Having served in the Navy for several decades, most of which encompassed the ‘cold war’, I sure see a lot of signs that we may be re-entering another one, but with different opposition this time. China has, in recent history, been pumping an awful lot of cash into their military infrastructure which concerns me with the drastic reductions we’ve taken in our own forces.