the Senkaku-Diaoyu Islands - Massachusetts Peace Action

The Socio-Historical Contexts of
Territorial Disputes:
the Senkaku/Diaoyu Islands
Pivoting for Peace in Asia-Pacific
Cambridge Friends Meeting
April 19, 2014
The Three Territorial Disputes
The Senkaku/Diaoyu Islands
The Senkaku/Diaoyu Islets
The Islets and the Surrounding Area
1. Geography
• The location: within a stone’s throw of Taiwan
• “Diaoyu” [釣魚島]: “Fishing Islands”
• Cf. “Senkaku” [尖閣]: “a pointed place,” “a steep hill”
Rich in fish—and oil and gas
However, the issue at stake may not so much be about
the natural resources themselves, but rather…
2. History
• The context of the imperial/colonial expansion
– Japan’s claim:
• 1872-79: the Ryukyu Kingdom abolished and turned
into Okinawa Prefecture
• 1894-95: the Sino-Japanese War
• 1895: the Senkakus incorporated into Japan
– China’s claim:
• The islands were known, named, and recorded at least
since the 15th century; they have always seen as a part
of Taiwan
• 1970s-80s: Shelving the territorial disputes
– 1972: the normalization of diplomatic relations
• Premier Zhou Enlai: “We should abandon small
differences/disputes for the sake of bigger common
– 1978: the Japan-China Peace & Friendship Treaty
• Deng Xiaoping: “We don’t mind putting the territorial
issue aside for years in the spirit of ‘Peace Treaty’…. By
putting aside, our generation may not be able to find a
solution, but I believe that a next generation, or one
after the next, for sure, should be able to do so.”
3. The Social Context: China
(an outsider’s observation)
• The late 1980s to 1990s
1989: the Tinamen Square Massacre
1991: the fall of the Soviet Union
– The limits of the communist ideology to gain the
support of the nation
– The use of patriotism and nationalism to hold the
country together
• Japan as an easy target: creating an external tension,
controlling and consolidating the population at home
• 2010: a Chinese fishing boat collided with a
Japanese Coastal Guard ship
• 2012: the Japanese government purchased
the islands from an “owner.”
(To avoid further tension and damage that would have
caused by the purchase by the Tokyo metropolitan
government led by the ultra-nationalist governor
Each followed by wide-spread (but the
government controlled?) anti-Japanese protests
in China
4. The Social Context: Japan
• The regional tension—convenient for Japan
(The Abe Administration, LDP, and other conservative,
right-wing parties)
– Pushing their agenda: restoring the military might
with neoliberal economic policy
– Increasing emphasis on nationalism and patriotism
• Creating a population willing to die for the country and to
overlook the internal differences (wealth and poverty)
– A kind of the “Shock Doctrine” (Naomi Klein)
• The regional tension—convenient for the US
– Can play a role of an arbiter; the tension gives the
US a reason to be in the region—to ease the
– Solidifying the presence of the US in Asia-Pacific
• The US-Japan military alliance
• The military bases in Okinawa
Not just the Japanese conservative, but more general
public may allow, even want, the US armed forces in
• Yet, in spite of the convenience, Japan does
not want to cross the line—China, after all, is
an enormous market.
• But no end-game in sight:
The territorial disputes
the national pride, saving face, nationalism
(a dangerous combination)
5. Some of the Latest
• The disputed territories to be mentioned in
elementary school textbooks (from 2015)
• Increasing conservatism/nationalism among the
– The Gubernatorial Election of Tokyo (Feb. 2014)
• The lowering the age requirement (20 to 18) for
the national referendum
• The Okinawans’ negative view on China
Okinawans View of Neighboring Countries
Impression of China
50.5% Rather not good impression
38.9% Not good impression
7.4% Rather good impression
0.9% Good impression
2.4% No response
Impression of Taiwan
62.6% Rather good impression
17.2% Good impression
14.8% Rather not good impression
1.8% Not good impression
3.5% No response
Source: The Regional Safety Policy Dept., Okinawa Prefecture, April 15, 2014
6. Conclusion
• The internal affairs in each country may be more
at stake in the territorial disputes:
– Maintaining the credibility of the Communist regime
using nationalism
– Reviving that old national slogan: “a wealthy nation
with strong armed forces” (the late 19th to early 20th
century); pushing the militarist and neoliberal
• “War is a fundamentally internal policy; it has
been fought to control the population at home.”-Howard Zinn quoting George Orwell

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