Pentagon wades into territorial dispute between China, Japan with surveillance

The Pentagon will begin flying unmanned surveillance missions over a small Pacific island chain that has become the focal point of a simmering territorial dispute between China and Japan.

The deal was reportedly struck during talks between Defense Secretary Leon Panetta and Japanese Defense Minister Satoshi Morimoto held at the Pentagon on Sunday, according to reports in the Taipei Times. 

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The surveillance missions over the Diaoyutai Islands — located off the coastlines of Japan, China and Taiwan — will likely be flown by Air Force Global Hawk drones deployed in the region. 

Three Global Hawks are already on station at Andersen Air Force Base in Guam. 

During the Sunday meeting, both defense chiefs also agreed to review the major tenets of U.S.-Japanese military cooperation, according to the Times.  

However, the pending Global Hawk flights are sure to further inflame tensions between the United States and China, as well as other regional powers such as Taiwan that have also made claims over the disputed island chain. 

China has already begun to flex its military might in areas across the Pacific, while continuing to pursue advanced weapon systems that could rival those in U.S. or allied arsenals. 

Aside from the Diaoyutai Islands, examples of Beijing's military aggressiveness have come mostly in the South China Sea, centered on the Spratly Islands. 

In July, top Chinese officials ordered troops to be stationed at bases located on the Spratlys, resulting in swift condemnation from Washington. 

Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) called the deployment "unnecessarily provocative,” adding that the move only served to ratchet up regional tensions between China and its neighbors in the Pacific. 

The decision to move the Air Force drones over the Diaoyutai Islands comes as the Defense Department continues to pursue its overarching strategic shift into the region. 

Along with the U.S. drones, DOD officials are reportedly considering plans to increase the number of attack submarines and long-range bombers in the Pacific, as part of that new strategy. 

Defense analysts from the Washington-based Center for Strategic and International Studies, told Congress in August that adding those assets into the region would act as a deterrent to China's growing military capabilities to deny access to territorial waters in the Pacific.