What's at stake in the smoldering diplomatic crisis with China over the uninhabited Senkaku Islands, which only seem to attract fishing boats and ultranationalists?

Many Japanese observers say Beijing, which claims the Japan-controlled islets in the East China Sea and calls them Diaoyu, is trying to secure natural resources in the surrounding area, whereas China says the islets were captured by Japan in the 1890s at the start of its aggression toward China.

But according to Sumihiko Kawamura, a former rear admiral and commander of the Maritime Self-Defense Force's antisubmarine air wing, Beijing has a more critical but less-articulated goal that, if achieved, could tip strategic military superiority from the United States to China in the Pacific.