While ample attention has been paid to China’s employment of maritime militia and gray zone tactics in the South China Sea, a similar dynamic unfolding in the East China Sea has attracted less consideration, yet it is even more provocative and dangerous. China’s tactics test the credibility of Japan’s unique concept of self-defense and the Japan-U.S. alliance, underwritten by American strategic security guarantees.

China routinely employs maritime militia fishing vessels backed by coast guard and naval forces to encroach on Japan’s territorial sea surrounding the Senkaku Islands (which are administered by Japan, but claimed by China as the Diaoyu Islands). Each year an influx of Chinese fishing vessels swarms around the Senkaku Islands beginning on Aug. 15, when China lifts its unilateral fishing ban. Already, the recent Defense of Japan annual white paper reports that 2020 will be a record year for Chinese incursions.