Japan ramped up its ongoing dispute with China over an island chain by announcing on Monday it would fly American unmanned aircraft over the territory to improve security.
The Global Hawk UAVs would be used to fly over the East China Sea islands, known as the Senkaku in Japan and Diaoyu in China, by fiscal year 2015, Defense Ministry officials were quoted as saying.
Concerns the dispute would spill into a real war rose last September, when Japan signed a deal on September 11 to buy three of the islands from their private Japanese owner in line with plans to nationalize the archipelago.
China launched its first aircraft carrier shortly after that to “effectively protect national sovereignty, security and development interest,” a move seen by analysts as a direct reference to the Communist nation’s claims to the islands.
China then took its case to the United Nations in mid-December, arguing its ownership of the islands based on certain geological features.
Sovereignty of the East China Sea islands would give its owner exclusive rights to oil, mineral, and fishing resources found in the surrounding waters.
The simmering argument has inflamed nationalist sentiments on both sides. Voters in Japan returned conservatives to power in mid-Decembers over the issue; a newly-formed far-right party also won a significant number of seats in the Japanese parliament because of the conflict.