Beijing/Tokyo Relations Strained: Taipei Could Serve as Intermediary
China Times editorial (Taipei, Taiwan, ROC)
September 19, 2012
Summary: The Diaoyutai Islands are outlying islands of Taiwan. Taipei could ask Beijing to respect Taipei's jurisdiction. Beijing is attempting to maintain sovereignty over the waters surrounding the Diaoyutai Islands. This could moderate its behavior. This could calm the current crisis. This could prevent the Diaoyutai Islands conflict from undermining the future of Sino-Japanese relations. Relations are strained on both Mainland China and Japan. Under the circumstances Taipei could play a valuable role as intermediary.
Full Text below:
The backlash from Japan's so-called "nationalization" of the Diaoyutai Islands has far exceeded the expectations of the Yoshihiko Noda cabinet. Anti-Japanese sentiment on Mainland China is raging out of control. On 9/18, the anniversary of the September 18, 1931 Shengyang Incident, large scale demonstrations erupted in over 100 Mainland cities. A ceremony celebrating the 40th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic relations with Japan was cancelled. Numerous private sector economic and tourism exchanges were also cancelled. Sino-Japanese relations were once again in a state of crisis. Tensions were even higher than in 2005, when the Koizumi cabinet was in office.
Both times the crisis in Sino-Japanese relations was the result of Japanese provocation. The last time was during Prime Minister Koizumi's term. He made annual visits to the Yasukuni Shrine. He stirred up the Chinese people's memories of anti-Japanese resistance. Japan's Fuso history textbooks were the catalyst. They ignited anti-Japanese protests on the Chinese mainland. Basically this sort of anti-Japanese sentiment is rooted in emotions. Once passions subside, people come back down to earth. They consider reality. They return to reason. Anti-Japanese sentiment cools. The situation does not spin out of control. By this is very different from the current anti-Japanese demonstrations on Mainland China. These were triggered by Japan's so-called "nationalization" of the Diaoyutai Islands.
Japan has a "different understanding of history" than its neighbors China and Korea. This often undermines Japan's real world diplomatic interests. After Koizumi stepped down, the Japanese government attempted to improve Sino-Japanese relations. To stabilize bilateral relations, currently serving Prime Ministers would avoid visiting the Yasukuni Shrine. The result was that Japan, which suffered two recessions, sank deep roots in into the Mainland Chinese market. For the Japanese economy, which was experiencing deflation, this was an important shot in the arm.
As a result, for some time, Japanese officialdom deliberately exercised restraint regardubg its "understanding of history." It discouraged Japanese rightists from demagoguing the issue in history textbooks. But the two countries' maritime interests enabled right-wing politicians in Japan to provoke conflict between the two nations. The Diaoyutai Islands sovereignty dispute became the catalyst by which Shintaro Ishihara would undermine Sino-Japanese relations. The hot topic between leaders of the two major parties was once economic growth. It is now national security. Ishiba Shigeru, Ishihara Akira, and other right wingers were able to set the election agenda. They gained an advantage in party leader elections. Meanwhile, in the upcoming House of Representatives elections became a means to incite antagonism toward Mainland China. It became a way to mask the Japanese government's ineptitude and the Japanese government's economic plight.
Governor Ishihara's so-called "purchase of the island" and Prime Minister Noda's "nationalization" are both examples of political sleight of hand. They are both ploys to distract from domestic policy failures by shifting attention to foreign policy conflicts. This changes Sino-Japanese relations from one rooted in subjective emotions, to one rooted in objective maritime interests. This makes the risk of an unintended conflict even greater than in 2005. . Japan probably made certain calculations. It probably calculated that on the eve of the 18th National Congress, the CCP would feel compelled to maintain political stability. It probably calculated that circumstances would be more favorable to Japan. It probably calculated that it would not trigger the tripwire in the Diaoyutai Islands. But the backlash genuinely took Japanese politicians by surprise.
Mainland China has risen. It has become increasingly active in the East Asian maritime region. It has become a thorn in the side of Japan, a self-proclaimed "maritime nation." In particular, cross-Strait relations have improved in recent years. Japan sees an increasing threat to its security on its southern flank. This underscores Sino-Japanese competition in the East Asian maritime region. The Diaoyutai Islands have a fatal attraction for both sides not limited to incalculable oil reserves. It also involves critical strategic values.
Since the Cold War, Japan has been accustomed to cross-Strait opposition. It has been advantageous to Japanese security interests. It has limited the practical importance of Taipei/Tokyo relations. Japanese politicians may hold high the banner of the "East Asian Community." But they have never departed from Fukuzawa's "We Must Possess Taiwan" realpolitik. They still see Taiwan as a means to maintain the security of the southwestern archipelago to the south of Japan's border. Anti-Japanese sentiment has reappeared throughout the Chinese Mainland. Japanese from all walks of life worry that Beijing may impose economic sanctions and jeopardize Japanese economic security. Japanese must rethink the impact of cross-Strait relations on Japan's foreign policy and national security. Japanese have traditionally assumed society on Taiwan is divided into simple blacks and whites, into pro-Japan/anti Mainland China sentiments, or pro Mainland China/anti-Japan sentiments. Japan needs to incorporate improved cross-Strait relations into Sino-Japanese relations. Take the East China Sea issue. Butting heads with Beijing will not increase Japan's security. It will not benefit Japanese diplomacy. The victims will be the markets and investments of Japanese trading companies on the Chinese mainland. This is clearly a disadvantageous policy.
Take the Diaoyutai Islands conflict. Japan must realize that Taipei has negotiated temporary administrative measures for the waters between 25 and 27 degrees north latitude. These could become the ultimate solution to the Diaoyutai Islands sovereignty issue. The Diaoyutai Islands are outlying islands of Taiwan. Taipei could ask Beijing to respect Taipei's jurisdiction. Beijing is attempting to maintain sovereignty over the waters surrounding the Diaoyutai Islands. This could moderate its behavior. This could calm the current crisis. This could prevent the Diaoyutai Islands conflict from undermining the future of Sino-Japanese relations. Relations are strained on both Mainland China and Japan. Under the circumstances Taipei could play a valuable role as intermediary.