The Dispute over Islands

Senkaku or Diaoyu?
Japan and China have for the past few hundred years attempted to establish themselves as the foremost super power in Asia. Debates over Manchuria, serious trade disagreements, and two full-scale wars in the 19th and 20th centuries have left the two nations sore and bitter. The history of major conflicts between the Chinese and Japanese governments is what is truly causing this controversy. The limited natural resources of the small islands are not the driving factor here. Instead, this controversy should be seen as symbolic, a argument over the nation’s sovereignty on the small scale, and their global reputation on the large scale. At the same time, it is naive to think that Japan and China will go to war over this. Full-scale war over land disputes is no longer internationally justified, and so there arises a more subtle debacle between the two East Asian titans. Now, the nations are caught in a media battle over a few pieces of rock northeast of Taiwan. Island Grabbing in Asia by Michael T. Klare broadly covers, “why the south china seas are so tense,” and provides the reasons behind making such a public spectacle over seemingly insignificant land masses. While it is hard to see a compromise in sight, it is extremely hard to imagine China and Japan going to war.

As a result of the disputes, as explained in a NY Times article posted yesterday, a series of so-called “orderly” protests are arising in China. Outside Japan’s embassy in Beijing, Chinese protesters throw eggs and paint at the windows and walls. There are talks of many Chinese citizens rallying to boycott Japanese products, and many Japanese immigrants in China are growing anxious, worried about their businesses and safety. What is unique about this, however, is that these are not the same riots as we currently are seeing in the Middle East. These are small-scale protests that are essentially sanctioned by the Chinese government though the media, encouraging citizens to show their patriotism.
The United States, through Defense Secretary Leon Panetta, has stated it will not take sides but will “advocate diplomacy to peacefully resolve [the debate].” The U.S. has had questionable past relations with both China and Japan, going to war with Japan after the Pearl Harbor attacks during World War 2 and supporting the Nationalist party (who lost to the Communists) in China during China’s transitional period. On top of this, the U.S. has had difficulty adjusting to the rise of China as the competitor to the U.S. as the greatest world economy, and relations currently are too delicate for the U.S. to confront China. But what Foreign Policy Passport points out is that the United States signed a treaty with Japan in 1971 recognizing it as Japanese territory, and may even be obligated to assist Japan if proven China invaded Japan’s sovereignty.
GoogleMaps has labeled the territory ‘Senkaku/Diaoyu’ on the popular satellite imagery, proving smart enough to stay neutral as well.

Updated September 25th: The NY Times Article this morning on Japan confronting Taiwanese ships near the islands reveals rising confrontations between China and Japan. Both Japanese and Taiwanese ships were caught on film spraying water at the opposition vessels, in a dispute that Japan started when trying to ward Taiwanese fishing boats out of the waters.

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