The Washington Times on November 8, 2012, published an AP report on Chinese patrol boats attacking the Japanese coast guard many times a week for more than a month…Excerpts below:

Four Chinese craft typically push to within hailing distance of Japan’s ships. They flash illuminated signs in Japanese to press Beijing’s argument that it has ancient claims to a set of tiny East China Sea islands now controlled by Tokyo. China says its craft have tried to chase away the Japanese at least once, although Japan denies that any of its ships have fled.

The surge in incidents has brought the sides into dangerous proximity, reflecting a campaign by Beijing to wear down Japanese resolve with low-level, nonmilitary maneuvers but also boosting the risk of a clash.

The missions began after the Japanese government purchased three of the five islands from their private Japanese owner in September in 2012, enraging a Chinese government that saw it as an attempt to boost Japan’s sovereignty claim. It also sparked violent protests against Japan in dozens of Chinese cities.

With emotions running high, any accident or miscalculation in these maritime missions could yield unexpected outcomes.

“One side might deploy a naval vessel in a support fashion, a move that the other would match,” said M. Taylor Fravel of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, who is following the dispute closely.

Japan has made it clear that it intends to meet the Chinese challenge in kind.

Japanese coast guard spokesman Yasuhiko Oku said the dispute was a factor behind the government’s allocation last week of $212 million to beef up the coast guard fleet with seven more patrol ships and three helicopters, though he said these assets are not only for use around the islands.

The near-constant presence of Chinese ships around the disputed islands has stretched the Japanese coast guard, which pulled out of a recent fleet review to free up ships for patrols.

China and Japan have no formal agreement on preventing unintended incidents at sea, making it easier for events to spin out of control as they did when a Chinese fishing boat rammed a Japanese cutter in 2010, leading to a diplomatic standoff and Chinese protests against Japan.

Some scholars say China’s apparent strategy to erode Japanese control gradually through low-key actions has been abetted by a noncommittal response from Washington. The Obama administration has said it takes no stance on the islands’ sovereignty, despite recognizing its treaty obligations to back Tokyo in any conflict.

China uses a similar approach in the South China Sea, where it has maritime disputes with several other nations.

Earlier this year, Beijing managed to nudge the Philippines out of a disputed shoal by entering a lengthy but nonviolent maritime standoff.

After both sides stood down, China set up barriers with ropes and buoys to block further access. Chinese ships also have sought to cut sonar cables and otherwise harass ships of the U.S. Navy



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