Officially China wants to defend its territorial integrity but the problem is that there are many disputed areas around the Chinese maritime borders. One of them is a large problem with Japan about the Senkaku Islands which is the Japanese name for them or Diaoyu Islands.
What are China priorities in its naval strategy? Why does this strategy raise concern in Japan?
There has been escalating tension between Japan and China. Geo-strategic compulsions have been driving them in the East China Sea. The Island dispute often triggers diplomatic row between the two. Much was debated in the United Nations by the two countries.
The crisis looks more serious now than any time in the past 40 years. China has recently drilled its naval exercises in the East China Sea, near the disputed Island. Japan strongly objected to it. On the other hand, Japan nationalized the Island by purchasing from a private owner in September. Chinese termed it \'money-laundering of the stolen property\'.
The dispute has economic fallout and hurts investment and trade between the two countries. Chinese have been calling to boycott Japanese products. It also affects the signing of a Regional Free Trade Agreement between Japan, China, and South Korea. East Asia\'s economic growth depends on these countries. The dispute has the potential to destroy the regional economy. The Bank of Japan has already cut its outlook for regional economies. The bilateral trade between China and Japan is hovering around US$ 340 billion. However, in recent months, bilateral trade has witnessed some downward trends. Japan\'s exports to China have been two-times higher than its exports to the United States. The escalating tension could prove more fatal to the Japanese economy. It is being feared in Tokyo that if tension continues, recession might hit Japan next year.
The tension has been escalated in the past two months and can trigger a full-fledged war between the two countries any time. Narrow emotional nationalism also drives the both nations on the issue. Meanwhile the United States and Japan have been considering a joint naval drill to offset the Chinese ambitions in the area. There is an urgency to resolve the issue between the two countries. A recent talk between Japanese and Chinese officials on the disputed Island was considered a good starting point that might yield positive results.
The Island of Senkaku (as called by Japanese) or Diaoyu (as called by Chinese) is not a simply bilateral dispute between China and Japan. It is basically a trilateral dispute amongst China, Japan, and Taiwan. The Taiwanese call it Tiaoyutai. China\'s claim goes through history. They claim that the island is their \'inherent territory\'. The Taiwanese also refute the Japanese claim and do not consider the Island as an extension of the Japan\'s Okinawa Island. Japan\'s claim is modern when it emerged as militarily power after the Meiji Restoration and in World Wars. Taiwan considers the Island as its \'natural part\' because Taiwan is closer to the Island than either China or Japanr. The dispute between China and Taiwan depends upon the political status of Taiwan, as China considers the island as its \'renegade province\' and wants its return like Hong Kong and Macao.
China also considers Diaoyu as one of its \'lost territories\' to imperial powers in the 20th Century. The Chinese Qing Dynasty lost the Island to Japan in 1894 during the war. However, the post-Meiji Japan also does not possess the record of the Island that the Island belongs to it. Historical records suggest that the Chinese first came to waters around the Islands, and then included the Islands into their coastal defense areas of the islands affiliated with Taiwan. The Chinese also consider the Island as a \'theft\' on part of Japanese.
The Island is barren and uninhabited but has potentially great resources of energy under its bed. There has been a proposal that all parties involved in the disputed Island shall jointly exploit its under-sea resources. Both China and Japan are energy-deficit countries and naturally struggle hard to gain more access to energy resources. Thus the Island is critically important to both of them.
It must be mentioned here that China has border disputes with all of its fourteen neighbors including Japan, Russia, India, and others, but most amicably solved its border dispute only with Pakistan in 1960. The border demarcation favored a relatively smaller Pakistan but politically, strategically, and diplomatically proved a sympathetic Pakistan toward China throughout its nation-building diplomacy after 1949.
The Sino-Pakistan border demarcation sets an example for other countries having border disputes with China, which has shown a generosity than simply narrating its historical suzerainty over the border area with Pakistan said to be around 6000 sq km. It was only the United States, which amicably reverted back the Okinawa Island to Japan in 1972. United States was also a victor and an occupation force at the end of World War II. The gesture of China towards Pakistan and the United States towards Japan sets good examples respectively in the 1960s and 1970s. China and Japan should also show their desire to amicably resolve the border dispute through mutual goodwill.
However, it is ironic that the same process was not adopted between China and Japan in spite of high level of bilateral trade, investment, and Japan\'s Official Development Assistance (ODA) preferences for China especially in the 1980s and 1990s to get it developed economically. However, both China and Taiwan pose more serious postures to Japan for its claim over the Island.
This also means that the issue might not be as simple as it is being debated and pursued in Beijing, Tokyo, and Taipei in diplomatic and political circles. As the territorial claim is delicate and sensitive; it runs into high emotions between the people of these three countries. A trilateral peaceful approach should be considered essential to lower down the rising emotions and to find out a possible resolution acceptable to all. However, as bilateral dispute between Beijing and Taipei does not come to any settlement yet, the Island dispute also looks much arduous.
Japan, however, might be in hurry to settle the dispute as early as possible and its action against the capture of the Chinese ship\'s captain in September 2010 shows. In fact, arrest and the release of captain after 17 days weakened Japanese position over the Island. At that time, China gained a diplomatic mileage over Japan.
Japan\'s close ally, United States came forward in reiterating the security treaty- Article 5 of the US-Japan Treaty that enables the United States to protect Japanese territories \'under its control\'. The Article 5 of the revised treaty (signed in 1960) stipulates as under: \'Each party recognizes that an armed attack against either party in the territories under the administration of Japan would be dangerous to its own peace and safety and declares that it would act to meet the common danger in accordance with its constitutional provisions and processes\'. Although Japan controls the Island, China severely disputes and rather claims its sovereignty.
One can see clearly how badly Japan has been bonded to either respond to conflict in the waters around itself under its Constitution and under US-Japan security treaty. This also means that Japan cannot use force against China, and second, the territory, which Japan claims, does not fall under its administrative control and hence debars United States to stay by its side. Constitutionally and strategically speaking, Japan has been handicapped to respond to the Island issue. Japan\'s action of 7 September 2010 should be considered as a political, military, and diplomatic blunder.
Therefore, Senkaku /Diaoyu/Tiaoyutai Island is beyond the US-Japan security treaty purview as the Island is not under Japan\'s administrative control and it is a trilateral dispute between China, Japan, and Taiwan. The scope of the new treaty did not extend to the Ryukyu Islands, but it made clear that \'in case of an armed attack on the Islands, both Governments would consult and take appropriate action\'. The United States also wants that both countries should restraint. The members of the Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN) should also facilitate a dialogue to settle the issue. The East Asia Summit (EAS) could also play a role.
United States takes no position over the disputed Island. The White House, Pentagon, and State Department gave the similar interpretation to see the issue solved amicably between China and Japan but they also overlooked the Taiwanese perspective. A true view of the Chinese perspective on the disputed Island would help the other claimants in resolving the issue. As the dispute could not resolve for long, its early diplomatic resolution would bring enormous benefits to the region. All kind of efforts should be made to avoid any military confrontation between the two countries.
By Dr Ahmad Rashid Malik
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