By William Mills
Since our last report on 7/10/12 the dispute over the East China Seas’ islands called Diaoyu by China and Senkaku by Japan has intensified.
Naval manoeuvring around the uninhabited islands is causing tensions to mount increasing the risk of an incident.
The islands were administered by the USA between 1945 and 1972 when they were transferred to Japan. In September 2012 the Japanese government bought out the private owners which led to the current tensions with China.
In January a Chinese foreign ministry spokesman called out going US Secretary of State Hilary Clinton ‘ignorant’ after her remarks supporting Japan.
Japanese Prime Minister, Shinzo Abe, elected only in December 2012 pledged to firmly defend his country’s sovereignty of the islands, a position he is likely to maintain at least until crucial parliamentary elections in July.
Xi Jingping, China’s new president, installed as leader of the ruling Communist Party in November 2012, also can’t appear to look weak.
So the maritime patrols buzzing one and another are likely to continue. However it should be remembered that during the Nato/Soviet Pact Cold War between 1948-91 none of the near miss incidents, so worrying at the time, ever led to all out conflagration.
The islands are also claimed by Taiwan, who call them Diaoyatai. Recently the Japanese coastguard turned back a boat carrying activists towards the islands.
However the Japanese haven’t installed troops leaving room for compromise. Both countries benefit from US$330 billion mutual trade which would be harmed if conflict erupted between them.
Lord David Howell, special advisor to British Foreign Secretary William Hague MP, commented;
“The Japanese economic interest in China is enormous, and to some extent vice-versa. So sheer economic interest ought to help calm political emotions. Having visited Shinzo Abe, the new Prime Minister, recently my impression is that Japan is keen to handle the issue in the most statesmanlike and calming way possible , and if necessary play it long. Their initial move to take over the islands from private hands was intended to defuse the situation, and they have tried to explain this endlessly to Beijing. But the Chinese have refused point blank to interpret the move this way.
Despite Hilary Clinton’s remarks I think Washington will remain reluctant to become more deeply involved and would prefer to see Tokyo and Beijing sort it out, however long it takes. It is a dispute neither country, nor the world economy, can afford to see escalate.”