This incident highlights the friction between East Asia's leading powers as China's military becomes a more assertive maritime player in the region.
This is the latest of several incidents in which Chinese vessels or helicopters have been accused of reckless behavior at sea. Last week, Manila protested against an incident in which Chinese patrol boats threatened to ram a Philippine survey vessel in the strategically important and resource-rich South China Sea.
Concerns about China's assertive military presence resulted in Tokyo order a sweeping reordering of its military forces. The purpose is to give Japan a stronger and more mobile presence in southern Japanese islands bordering the East China Sea.
In the latest incident, Japan's defense ministry said the Chinese helicopter had been flying at an altitude of just 40m when it came within a horizontal distance of about 70m from the Japanese destroyer Samidare on Monday afternoon. “This behavior is extremely dangerous,” Toshimi Kitazawa, Japan's defense minister, told a news conference on Tuesday, adding that Tokyo had already protested to Beijing “through diplomatic channels”. Officials said the Chinese helicopter had this time come even closer than during a similar incident in April last year that was also protested by Tokyo.
The East China Sea is a focus of Sino-Japanese tensions, with both sides claiming large swathes of its resource-rich waters as their own exclusive economic zones. A Japanese defense ministry official declined to give details of where the latest incident occurred, but denied media reports it was near the controversial Chunxiao gas field, where Tokyo says Chinese drilling operations could be drawing gas from across the “median line” that it claims as the border.
In 2008, Beijing and Tokyo announced they would work together to exploit gas reserves in disputed areas of the East China Sea, but progress has since stalled. China halted discussions on joint gas development last year after a Chinese fishing boat clashed with Japanese coastguard near a group of disputed islands known as the Senkakus in Japanese and the Diaoyus in Chinese.
Military officials from south-east Asian countries say China has been evading dialogue on conflict prevention in disputed waters. The Chinese government says it has been working to assuage regional concerns triggered by its growing power. “We realize that some people doubt our strategy of peaceful development and have concerns over China’s rise,” said a senior Beijing official involved in foreign policy planning. But he blamed these doubts on foreigners’ ill will and failure to understand China.
The naval arm of China's People's Liberation Army is rapidly expanding the range of its patrols and exercises, but has said it aims to dispel doubts among neighbors by being more transparent. Last summer, it began announcing most of its regular naval exercises in advance.
Two years ago, the US accused China of a series of harassments of US Navy surveillance vessels in both the East China Sea and the South China Sea. Chinese and US military officials, however, have an ongoing dialogue about “rules of the road” meant to prevent collisions in regional waters. US naval officials say there have been no new incidents between the two sides over the past year.
I wanted to add a quick word about the Congressional Hearings into Muslim radicalization in the United States. I have several friends who have expressed both support and opposition to the hearings. Those opposed seem to fear that they will be nothing more than a witch hunt whose purpose is to demonize Muslims. I do not belive that is what they are intended for but I certainly understand the undelaying distrust and fear. These are Congressional Hearings and we have all too often see those turn into absolute circuses. Personally, I would have been much happier of they had been broader in their base and were looking into radicalization by any and all groups within the United States.
While it is definately true that the majority of terrorist attacks and attempted attacks lately have been perputrated by Muslim radicals, it it also true that there have been bombings, assasinations and attempts made by white supremists, Chirtistian Anit-Abortion radicals and other nut job groups. Basically, looking into this issue and trying to find a way of reducing the threat is good, but without looking into all radicalization it will be incomplete and stands a greater chance of increased prejudice against good Americans of the Islam faith.
Live Long and Prosper....