- Considerable attention has been paid to the significance of the South China Sea, but the East China Sea deserves equal attention
- The East China Sea is rife with contested territorial claims, military buildups and is of great geopolitical significance
- Disruption of free navigation in the East China Sea would affect China, Japan and South Korea, and could drag in Russia
The East China Sea may be the most strategic location in all of Asia. While the media and policymakers have paid considerable attention to the geopolitical significance of the South China Sea, the East China Sea deserves equal attention. Like the South China Sea, it is rife with contested territorial claims, larger military buildups among the principal players of the region and a geopolitical significance that impinges even more directly on long-standing U.S. security commitments. It is a nexus of competition between Asia’s two great powers, China and Japan, and it is an area in which the United States plans to retain sufficient military presence to shape the maritime environment. Disruption of free navigation there would affect the economies of the three major countries in the region – China, Japan and South Korea – and could drag in Russia, which increasingly exports its natural resources through the East China Sea. Conflict in the East China Sea could trigger a tripwire effect, requiring the United States to increase the number of military forces that are forward stationed in Asia.