The latest, dangerous standoff between Japan and China, which brought violent protests across China, was sparked by Tokyo’s decision to “nationalise” a chain of disputed, gas-rich islands in the East China Sea. But the row is just one manifestation of a deeper, multi-faceted, and almost institutionalised confrontation pre-dating the second world war. Coincidentally, Tuesday marks the anniversary of an infamous event that raised the curtain on the modern era of Sino-Japanese tensions. [UK Guardian]
TOKYO’S GOVERNOR Shintaro Ishihara, an award winning author, started something this year that’s now built into quite a skirmish, which is heading into a potential international conflict. Sensing the tensions that would develop if Ishihara controlled the islands from Tokyo, the Japanese government stepped in and bought the islands. China’s response was to launch patrols in the near waters. The story playing out today is another chapter in history.
China refers to the territory as the Diaoyu islands, so maybe the safest thing to call them is an “East China Sea island chain,” as they did today in the Los Angeles Times, as Defense Secretary Leon Panetta lands in China.
Panetta will press the Chinese officials to ease tensions over the islands and other territorial disputes with neighbors in the South China Sea, said the U.S. official who spoke anonymously. “It’s an opportunity to hear from the Chinese themselves about what their intentions are,” he said. [Los Angeles Times]
While the verbal sparring between the Chinese and Japanese governments has played out in a series of statements, protesters from both sides have been taking direct action to assert their countries’ control over the islands. In late August, Japan deported 14 Chinese protesters who were arrested after five swam ashore the Diaoyu/Senkaku islands and waved the flags of China and Taiwan. Nine others aboard the waiting vessel were also detained. Days later after the Chinese landing, Japanese activists also made the journey to the remote islets to raise the Japanese flag, prompting China to lodge “solemn representations to the Japanese ambassador,” according to Xinhua.
This is not a new grievance, dating back to 1890s, even if it’s predicated on a recent action, with China having a new age tool to wield against Japan if it gets worse.
Jin Baisong wrote that World Trade Organization rules could be used to limit export of “important materials” to Japan. “The global financial crisis increased Japan’s reliance on China for its economic well-being. So it’s clear that China can deal a heavy blow to the Japanese economy without hurting itself too much by resorting to sanctions,” said Jin, deputy director of the department of Chinese trade studies at the Chinese Academy of International Trade and Economic Cooperation, which is affiliated to the Ministry of Commerce. [CNN]