World War III nightmare scenario brewing in the East China Sea

World War III nightmare scenario brewing in the East China Sea
By Clay Dillow, special to

OKINAWA-While the world watches mounting military tensions in the South China Sea, another, more ominous situation is brewing in the East China Sea that could be the trigger point for a major war between the superpowers. At the heart of tensions are eight uninhabited islands controlled by Japan that are close to important shipping lanes, rich fishing grounds and potential oil and gas reserves. China contests Japan's claims and is escalating its military activity in Japan airspace. In response, Japan has been doubling its F-15 jet intercepts.

From April to December of last year, Japanese fighter jets scrambled to intercept Chinese aircraft 644 times (Japan's fiscal year runs April 1 to March 31 of the following year). While Japan has not yet released total figures for fiscal 2016, Ministry of Defense officials briefing CNBC on the matter maintain that the tempo of airborne intercepts continues to increase, as it has every year since 2008.

JASDF forces haven't intercepted this many aircraft since the busiest days of the Cold War, when aircraft form the Soviet Union were active in the region.

The Senkaku Islands (known as the Diaoyu Islands to China), located some 225 nautical miles west of the main island of Okinawa and just 90 miles north of the Japanese island of Ishigaki, are claimed by both countries, creating an ambiguous security situation as both nations' militaries attempt to administer the uninhabited land masses and their surrounding territorial waters and airspace. Key to the dispute are both the rich fishing waters around the Senkakus and reports of potential oil and gas reserves in the seabed of the surrounding East China Sea. Sovereignty over the islands for either China or Japan (or Taiwan, which also claims the islands) would bolster any future claims to those energy reserves.

As the Trump administration reportedly crafts a major new military arms package for Taiwan to help the island deter a rising Chinese military, Chinese Defense Ministry spokesperson Wu Qian told a press briefing last week that "it is futile to use weapons to refuse unification, and is doomed to have no way out."

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