The Chinese Coast Guard sailed three ships within Japan’s territorial waters yesterday, likely another intentional provocation fitting a pattern of recent Chinese actions in the South China Sea.

The territorial waters in question are part of the Senkaku Islands, a handful of uninhabited islands that lay roughly due east of Mainland China. Japan has claimed ownership of the islands since the late 19th century.

China, who refers to the islands as the Diaoyu Islands also claims them as Chinese territory.

Of particular note is the timing of just such an action near the Senkakus. During his recent visit to Japan, Defense Secretary James Mattis specifically addressed Japanese sovereignty over the islands, going as far as to assert any Chinese attack on the islands would invoke Article 5 of the US-Japan Security Treaty.

Similar to NATO’s Article 5, the United States has agreed to a military defense of Japan should any of its territories be attacked.

As SOFREP has reported, these actions are likely part of an overall Chinese campaign to signal its readiness for war. As seemingly inconsequential as a set of barren islands are, every aspect of the territory within the South China Sea is now a potential cause for conflict. As the nations in the region dig in their heels over territorial rights, the United States may find itself drawn into further escalations of force.

China utilizes its Coast Guard as the primary mechanism for contesting its territorial disputes with Japan. The Chinese ships used over the course of various altercations are unlike any other Coast Guard vessel around the world.

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The three vessels used yesterday near the Senkaku’s were Haijing Patrol Boats, a class of vessel which has been called ‘the Monster’ by Chinese media due to its impressive size.

While most other Chinese Coast Guard ships are only lightly armed with small arms or water cannons, the Haijing class of patrol boats has 76 millimeter cannons, anti-aircraft guns, and other armament, making it the largest and most heavily armed Coast Guard cutter in the region.

The dynamics of territorial claims in the South China Sea have created a strange arms race of sorts between Japan and China. The Japanese have opted to enforce their various island claims using their Coast Guard vessels, likely due to their own military restrictions as a holdover from World War Two. As a result, China has responded in kind, using its own Coast Guard fleet to frequently engage in maritime versions of ‘chicken,’ where the largest and fastest ships rule the day.

In the event these bizarre games on the high seas escalate, the Chinese have stacked the deck in their favor, employing enormous and well-armed Coast Guard cutters to intimidate their Japanese counterparts.

Image Courtesy of China Defense Forum