Multiple national claims boiled over today in the Far East when Chinese and Japanese naval and air forces clashed in the waters and airspace around the disputed Senkaku-Diaoyo Islands.
The battles occurred in the vicinity of Kadena Air Base on the island of Okinawa, a home to United States military forces in Japan, and put the United States in the precarious position of engaging Chinese military forces at a time when the two governments are jointly trying to convince North Korea to abandon its nuclear program.
At a short press conference the Secretary of Defense stated the United States was engaged in strictly defensive operations, and that the Chinese fired the first shots. He said “…the United States will honor it’s treaty obligations with Japan….” He provided no information on casualties or on the current status of troops at Kadena Air Base following their battles with Chinese forces.
According to sources at the Pentagon the battles began when Chinese jet fighters harassed and shot down an unarmed SH-60/Seahawk helicopter on routine patrol ahead of a Japanese task force sent to demonstrate Japanese sovereignty over the Senkaku Islands. The Japanese task force had been dispatched in response to a Chinese task force, which was detected heading towards the disputed island chain. The Taiwanese navy also deployed ships to the region in response to the Chinese and Japanese deployments but, was content to remain neutral during the battle.
Soon after the helicopter was shot down Japanese air force fighters from the Japanese mainland attacked a formation of Chinese ships. Sources indicate that after multiple attacks the Chinese destroyer Hangzhou was sunk. Japanese air forces continue to pound the Chinese ships while Japanese ships headed to the area. Finally the ships engaged each other with cruise missiles—the weapon of choice for modern navies in the 21st century. The Chinese are believed to have lost at least five ships, including the Hangzhou and her sister ship the Fuzhou. Japanese naval losses were believed to include four destroyers.
While the Japanese openly claim victory after the battle its thought the price they paid was too high to both their naval and air forces. Beijing has remained silent and provided no details on the battle.
A press conference is being arranged with the Japanese on-scene commander from the destroyer Kongo now cruising in waters about 130 nautical miles southeast of the disputed island chain with her escorts the Kurama and Hamana.
United States fighters from Kadena Air Base did not attack the Japanese ships; however, sources say the played a vital role in providing combat air patrols engaging Chinese fighters in support of Japanese naval and air forces.
The disputed rule of the Senkaku-Diaoyu Islands involves 500-year-old claims and rights to future offshore oil development between China and Japan. Taiwan also claims the island chain.
This most recent chapter began in November 2004 when a Chinese nuclear powered submarine was detected cruising the waters around the Senkaku Islands (known by the Chinese as Diaoyu Islands). Due to the subs presence the Japanese Maritime Self-Defense Force was put on alert for only the second time since the end of World War II. Japanese naval forces chased the sub forcing it to return to Chinese waters.
In February 2005 the Japanese placed a lighthouse built on the largest of islands under their state control and protection. The action by Tokyo prompted Beijing to call the move “…a serious provocation and violation of Chinese territorial sovereignty, which is firmly opposed by the Chinese government and people….”
Today’s events have significantly raised the stakes on the ultimate fate of the island chain.