Senkaku-Diaoyu Dispute China/Japan/U.S.

The United States and China clashed
over Japan last week as the Chinese
defense minister asserted that Beijing had
“indisputable sovereignty” over a group
of islands in the East China Sea and that
his country’s military stood ready to
protect its interests in territorial disputes
Senkaku(known in Japan)-Diaoyu(known in
China) At the heart of the dispute are eight
uninhabited islands and rocks in the East
China Sea.
They matter because they are close to
important shipping lanes, offer rich fishing
grounds and lie near potential oil and gas
reserves. They are also in a strategically
significant position, this is because rising
competition between the US and China for
military primacy in the Asia-Pacific region.
Japan says it surveyed the
islands for 10 years in the 19th
Century and determined that
they were uninhabited. In 1895
Japan instituted a sovereignty
marker and formally
incorporated the islands into
Japanese territory.
After World War Two, Japan
renounced claims to a number
of territories and islands
including Taiwan in the 1951
Treaty of San Francisco. These
islands, however, came under
US trusteeship and were
returned to Japan in 1971
under the Okinawa reversion
Japan says China raised no
objections to the San Francisco
deal. And it says that it is only
since the 1970s, when the issue
of oil resources in the area
emerged, that Chinese and
Taiwanese authorities began
pressing their claims.
China says that the islands have been part of its
territory since ancient times, serving as important
fishing grounds administered by the province of
Taiwan was ceded to Japan in the Treaty of
Shimonoseki in 1895, after the Sino-Japanese war.
When Taiwan was returned in the Treaty of San
Francisco, China says the islands should have been
returned too. Beijing says Taiwan's Kuomintang
leader Chiang Kai-shek did not raise the issue,
even when the islands were named in the later
Okinawa reversion deal, because he depended on
the US for support.
The US and Japan forged a
security alliance in the wake of
World War II and formalized it in
1960. Under the deal, the US is
given military bases in Japan in
return for its promise to defend
Japan in the event of an attack.
This means if conflict were to
erupt between China and Japan,
Japan would expect US military
back-up. US President Barack
Obama has confirmed that the
security pact applies to the islands
- but has also warned that
escalation of the current row
would harm all sides.
Last week Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel visited China and had a joint press
Conference with Minister General Chang Wanquan formally answering
questions about the island dispute.
General Chang made his comments at the Ministry of National Defense. This was
Defense Secretary Hagel’s first trip to China as defense secretary.
The visit was critical to international cooperation because according to
American defense officials, they have sought to present a long-awaited
deepening of military relations between the countries.
The minister, Gen. Chang Wanquan, said that
China would not be first to launch an attack over
the territorial dispute. He continued, “The Chinese
military can assemble as soon as summoned, fight
any battle and win.”
“China has indisputable sovereignty over the
Diaoyu Islands,” General Chang said.
He added that on the issue of what he called
“territorial sovereignty,” China would “make no
compromise, no concession, no treaty.”
At one point, Mr. Hagel appeared impatient,
saying, “The Philippines and Japan are
longtime allies of the United States,”
Mr. Hagel accused China of adding to tensions
in the region by declaring an air defense zone
in the East China Sea. Such moves, he warned,
could “eventually get to dangerous conflict.”
Late last year, China set off a trans-Pacific uproar
when it declared that an “air defense identification
zone” gave it the right to identify and possibly
take military action against aircraft near the
islands. Japan refused to recognize China’s claim,
and the United States has since defied China by
sending military planes into the zone,
The dispute over the islands also figured
prominently last week at the New York debut of
the Asia Society Policy Institute, a nonpartisan
research group created by the Asia Society. China’s
ambassador to the United States, Cui Tiankai,
participating in a panel on Asian peace and
prosperity firmly warned the United States about
taking sides with Japan.
Without identifying Japan by name, Mr. Cui
said America should think hard about whether
its military alliances with other countries in
Asia were serving American interests.
William J. Burns, the deputy secretary of state,
said in a keynote speech at the event that the
island dispute and North Korea’s behavior
were the two most serious security issues
facing Asia.. Going forward, Mr. Burns said,
“no region will be more consequential for
American interests and for the shape of the
global system than the Asia Pacific.”
The Senkaku/Diaoyu issue highlights the more
robust attitude China has been taking to its
territorial claims in both the East China Sea and
the South China Sea.
In both China and Japan, meanwhile, the
dispute ignites nationalist passions on both
sides, putting much political capital risk on the
U.S. part and ultimately making any possible
resolution even harder to find. There might not
be a conclusion anytime soon but there is no
certain timetable when this could be resolved.

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