China training for ‘short, sharp war’, says senior US naval officer –

China has been training for a “short, sharp war” against Japan in the East China Sea, a senior US military officer has claimed, in comments that underline the growing military tensions in the western Pacific.

Disputed territory

Captain James Fanell, director of intelligence for the US Pacific Fleet, said that a large-scale Chinese military exercise conducted in 2013 was designed to prepare forces for an operation to seize disputed islands in the East China Sea, which Japan calls the Senkaku and China the Diaoyu.

“We witnessed the massive amphibious and cross military region enterprise – Mission Action 2013,” Capt Fanell said at a navy conference last week in San Diego.

“We concluded that the PLA [People’s Liberation Army] has been given the new task of being able to conduct a short, sharp war to destroy Japanese forces in the East China Sea following with what can only be an expected seizure of the Senkakus,” he added.

Conducting a training exercise is very different from having an actual plan to seize the islands. For years, the Chinese military has staged exercises designed to mimic a possible invasion of Taiwan.

However, the comments about China’s military training plans come at a time of considerable tension surrounding the contested islands. The regular presence of both Chinese and Japanese vessels and aircraft in the region has raised the risk of an accident that could spark a wider confrontation.

In December, China declared an air defence identification zone for the East China Sea, which the US and many other countries in the region interpreted as an attempt to cement its sovereignty claim over the disputed islands.

Although Capt Fanell’s remarks were unusually blunt in their assessment of China’s intentions, they represent a growing tide of anxiety from senior US officials about Beijing’s ambitions in both the East China Sea and South China Sea.

Earlier in February, Danny Russel, the US assistant secretary of state for East Asia, warned “there are growing concerns that this pattern of behaviour in the South China Sea reflects incremental effort by China to assert control over the area”. He said that China’s recent actions had “created uncertainty, insecurity and instability in the region”.

Capt Fanell said that Chinese maritime training had shifted in character in the second half of 2013 to prepare for “realistic maritime combat” that its navy might encounter. Last year, it conducted nine operations in the western Pacific that were designed to “practise striking naval targets”.

“I do not know how Chinese intentions could be more transparent,” he said. When Beijing described its activities as the “protection of maritime rights”, this was really “a Chinese euphemism for the coerced seizure of coastal rights of China’s neighbours”, Capt Fanell said.

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