The Potential for Conflict

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As the world pays attention to the recent Chinese militarization of the South China Sea islets, China is establishing a “new normal” with more frequent military and paramilitary presence in the East China Sea. China is taking necessary steps to make the South China Sea a Chinese lake with surveillance and air defense assets deployed. But it is less likely that the East China Sea will become a Chinese lake because the military balance still favors Japan.

China’s assertiveness in the East China Sea reflects Beijing’s challenge to the regional order based on the 1951 San Francisco Peace Treaty.  Under this Treaty, the Senkaku Islands as part of Okinawa were placed under U.S. trusteeship and returned to Japan under the 1972 Okinawa Reversion Treaty. China, which was not a party to the peace treaty, started to claim the Senkaku Islands in 1971 based on the 1895 Treaty of Shimonoseki and the 1943 Cairo Declaration.

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