As Diaoyutai turns Red Hot, Japan turns Sickly Green
China Times editorial (Taipei, Taiwan, ROC)
September 28, 2012
Summary: Mainland China has been sharpening its swords for the past decade. Now that they are sharp, it wants to test them out. This could happen soon. It could happen a few years down the line, It could even happen decades from now. But Mainland China will eventually want to change the Asia-Pacific strategic picture. It will insist on a position more consistent with its national strength. The world is not immutable. The Asia-Pacific situation will change. Japan and the United States must be psychologically prepared for this.
Full Text below:
The United Nations General Assembly convened this week. Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda exploited the occasion to claim that the Diaoyutai Islands belong to Japan. He hoped to secure the support of the international community. But Mainland China also expressed strong views on the matter. The foreign ministers of the two governments met and exchanged fire. The Diaoyutai Island conflict has now spread to United Nations. A Sino-Japanese conflict is brewing.
Noda admits he misjudged the situation concerning the Diaoyutai Islands "nationalization." He admits he did not realize the Chinese reaction would be so intense. That is why he sent a special envoy to Beijing. But Mainland China vehemently objects to Noda's "purchase" of the Diaoyutai Islands. Noda's "purchase" undermines a long held Sino-Japanese agreement not to change the status quo. Noda found himself in a dilemma. If he "buys" the islands, the consequences are serious. If he does not "buy" the islands, Tokyo Governor Shintaro Ishihara will demagogue the issue, If in the future more diplomatic disputes erupt, Noda will still be the one to face the consequences.
Noda appealed to the international community. But consider the matter closely. The United States has made clear that it takes no position on the sovereignty of the Diaoyutai Islands. It says it merely turned administrative authority of the islands over to Japan. The US says the Japan-US Security Treaty applies to the Diaoyutai Islands. In other words, even the United States, which is Japan's strongest supporter, does not agree that Japan has sovereignty over the Diaoyutai Islands. Other members of the international community are reluctant to become involved. Japan wants to pretend that Japan's alleged sovereignty over the Diaoyutai Islands is uncontested. It refuses to turn the matter over to the international court for arbitration. It has announced to the international community that it is digging in its heels. In fact, it is merely talking to itself. Needless to say this is hardly going to moderate Mainland China's fury.
The 29th of this month is the 40th anniversary of the establishment of Sino-Japanese diplomatic relations. But the Diaoyutai Islands conflict has intervened. The two sides were preparing to celebrate the occasion. The atmosphere between the two governments has changed all that. The Mainland side says the the celebrations have been cancelled. Will they resume any time soon? The Mainland side says they have been "postponed indefinitely." This means Sino-Japanese relations are now ice cold.
Storm clouds appear to be forming over the Diaoyutai Islands. Mainland Chinese fishery and ocean surveillance ships are everywhere. Japanese Coast Guard patrol boats shuttle back and forth. Warships from both sides are on alert. We will be lucky if a stray spark doesn't touch of a conflagration. Sino-Japanese relations have now come to this. If Japan expects Mainland China to celebrate the 40th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic ties, then it is too disingenuous for words.
In fact, the Diaoyutai Islands conflict is not confined to the ownership of a few uninhabited islands. Nor is it confined to the fact that international political factors make it impossible to develop the undersea oil resources. Rather, this is the focus of an historic blood feud and power struggle between major world powers. This is a long burning fuse that has finally reached the powderkeg.
After WWII the United States fostered the rapid re-emergence of Japan. To nations victimized by Japanese aggression, postwar Japan's meteoric rise was hardly consistent with justice. Japan caused the enormous loss of life. It invaded these countries. It slaughtered their citizens. It destroyed their families. The result of the Second World War was Japanese defeat and Chinese victory. But as both sides of the Taiwan Strait see it, the United States, a Western power, illegally and arbitrarily turned China's sovereign territory over to Japan, a former aggressor. In other words, the war may have ended. But Japan has yet to return territory belonging to another nation that Japan obtained through naked military aggression.
This territory may be small in size. But behind it are smoldering, unresolved historical grievances. These demons continue to haunt us. From one perspective, the war never really ended. The two sides of the Taiwan Strait continue to wage their Diaoyutai Islands Defense Movement campaigns. In fact what they are doing is attempting to end the conflict by resolving a lingering injustice inflicted upon China by Japan.
The Chinese mainland hopes to resolve this historical grievance with Japan. It hopes to put the Diaoyutai Islands dispute behind it. The United States has long dominated East Asia. It has long attempted to contain Mainland China. Mainland China is now striking back.
First of all, the party that turned the Diaoyutai Islands over to the Japanese was the US. It was the instigator of the current troubles. The US now says it holds no position on the sovereignty of the Diaoyutai Islands. But the US-Japan Security Treaty refers to the Diaoyutai Islands as the "Senkaku Islands." This betrays an obvious bias in favor of Japan. The US is simply refusing to acknowledge responsibility for its original decision. Therefore Mainland China does not believe for one minute that the United States is either disinterested or neutral. Even if the United States wanted to mediate, it would not be trusted. If the Diaoyutai Islands conflict lacks a mediation mechanism, Mainland China and Japan will collide head-on.
Second, and more fundamentally, Mainland China will eventually want to overthrow the US containment strategy for Asia. The US has long attempted to contain Mainland China by encircling it with a second island chain. This chain includes South Korea, Japan, Taiwan, and the Philippines. But Mainland China is clearly on the rise. Its political, economic, and military strength continue to grow. It will not always be willing to be locked inside its own home by the United States. The Diaoyutai Islands conflict may enable Mainland China to break through the United States' East Asian containment chain. Absent this conflict, Mainland China would have a hard time finding a broken link in the chain, especially during peacetime. Japan caused the Diaoyutai Islands conflict to heat up. Ironically it brought the roof down on itself.
Mainland China has been sharpening its swords for the past decade. Now that they are sharp, it wants to test them out. This could happen soon. It could happen a few years down the line, It could even happen decades from now. But Mainland China will eventually want to change the Asia-Pacific strategic picture. It will insist on a position more consistent with its national strength. The world is not immutable. The Asia-Pacific situation will change. Japan and the United States must be psychologically prepared for this.