Kyodo News has published an internal document from China's People’s Liberation Army (PLA) that specified a military crisis at sea between China and Japan would severely threaten Beijing’s strategy of peaceful development and its "Belt and Road initiative" (BRI).
The internal report, authored by two military officials at the Naval Military Research Institute and Dalian Naval Academy, suggested the probability of a significant military crisis at sea between both countries is rapidly increasing due to disputes over the sovereignty of the Senkaku Islands, maritime demarcation in the East China Sea, and the development of marine resources in the region.
Last week, a Japanese submarine war drill was conducted in the South China Sea. The Maritime Self-Defense Force (MSDF) said in a rare statement that one submarine and three other vessels performed aggressive maneuvers to deter China's militarization in the region.
The PLA report, which was published for internal use only in April 2017, warns that a minor misjudgment of the above issues could deteriorate bilateral relations between both countries and lead to a maritime crisis.
As a result, the disruption could jeopardize Beijing’s BRI or the Silk Road Economic Belt and the 21st-century Maritime Silk Road, a series of trade routes that connect China by land, air, and sea to Southeast Asia, Pakistan and Central Asia, and beyond to the Middle East, Europe and Africa.
The second region in focus for a potential trigger point between China and Japan is the East China Sea, in particular, the Japan-owned Senkakus Islands, which are also claimed by China, where the land masses are known as the Diaoyu, and Taiwan, which calls them Tiaoyutai.
In late 2012, a private Japanese landowner sold the group of uninhabited islands to the Japanese government, infuriating Beijing and leading to a brief but acute diplomatic war between the two nations.
"The Diaoyu clearly possess economic and sovereign value, but its military significance is even more evident," the PLA report states. "Its location is strategically important if we choose to take Taiwan by force. It is also important in competing with Japan for maritime rights."
The third potential region where a military crisis could emerge between both countries is the Taiwan Strait and the South China Sea.
The PLA report also states Japan’s strategy is to strengthen relations with Taiwan and the US to contain China. In the South China Sea, Japan is said to be jointly working with individual Southeast Asian countries and the US to challenge China’s "legitimate actions to protect its national sovereignty in the area," the report claims.
To prevent a military skirmish between China and Japan that could spiral out of control and lead to World War III, the PLA report suggests six precautionary measures:
"The first is to ensure both sides maintain high-level official contacts and "properly handle" long-standing disputes, while the second is to have both establish a military confidence-building mechanism and strengthen military exchanges.
Recognizing that the disputes over the Senkakus and the demarcation of the East China Sea cannot be resolved overnight, the article advised, as a third measure, that Beijing and Tokyo establish a "highly efficient" crisis management mechanism that involves government agencies related to such fields as defense, diplomacy, and maritime affairs.
The fourth is to strengthen the capacity for managing a military crisis, including through academic study of maritime crisis management.
The fifth is to strengthen cooperation on maritime security with the United States. The purpose is to avoid involving the United States in a "China-Japan military crisis on the sea" so China will not be "hijacked into a maritime crisis with the United States."
Finally, the sixth measure calls for China to build a strong navy to ensure its maritime supremacy."
The PLA report also said Japan as a country has a tradition of "not making enemies with a strong country." China's survivability depends on the strength of its naval power. "Only by securing maritime supremacy can we make our adversary flinch," the report concluded.
As a result, we can now add the smoldering China-Japan maritime crisis to the list of powderkegs ready to ignite into a regional, or global, armed conflict.