China-Japan: Diaoyu /Senkaku Dispute

IITM CSC Article #36
5 September 2012


China-Japan: Diaoyu /Senkaku Dispute

The dispute over the Senkaku/ Diaoyu Islands, between China and Japan has recently escalated, causing strain on already existing tension between the Asian neighbours. The issue gained momentum after a statement was made by the Japanese government that they would be buying the islands from current private Japanese owners. Earlier this year a similar statement was made by the Tokyo governor, fanning nationalists’ sentiments both in Japan and China.

As per media reports there recently had been a number of incidents with respect to this dispute. First, Japan arrested 14 Chinese nationals who attempted to land on the Island on August 15, 2012. Secondly around 150 Japanese nationals attempted to land on the Island to pay homage to the Japanese who died during the World War II. However the Japanese government did not grant permission for them to land on the Island. This was followed by a number of protests in China such as the protests outside the Japanese Embassy in Beijing.

Recent actions by Japan have showcased its assertiveness in laying its claim to the islands. As reaction to the incident Japanese foreign ministry has decided to postpone the visit of a Japanese top official to Beijing, China Daily reported. The Japanese government has undertaken a military drill with United States. “Japanese forces to join U.S. Marines in the western Pacific Ocean for a month-long military drill. This drill is said to focus on tackling the scenario of taking back islands occupied by enemy troops”, Xinhua reported. This action has further upped the level of discord.

The Island dispute has become a new ground for China and Japan to showcase their respective strengths. The governments know that any kind of development with respect to this issue will gain immediate public support. However the involvement of the United States (as a close ally of Japan) further complicates the situation. According to media reports Washington has urged that the issue be resolved peacefully. State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland has stated that, “any kinds of provocations are not helpful in that regard”. According to Xinhua she added asserted that, “the Diaoyu Islands fall into a security and cooperation treaty between Washington and Tokyo”. The level of aggressiveness shown by Beijing vis-à-vis Japan also highlights the possibilities of the way Beijing is going to react to the other territorial disputes in the South China Sea region. With China on the way to becoming a stronger naval power the regional dynamics are constantly changing.

At a time when China is facing leadership transition it has become all the more crucial for Beijing to showcase a strong stance with respect to its territorial issues. Nothing arouses the nationalistic feelings within China more than an issue with Japan and hence must be delicately dealt with by China.

What has been interesting is that the Chinese government has allowed the outpour of anti-Japanese sentiments over the internet. The general show of sentiment in the Chinese media has been of ‘heightened nationalism’ directed against Japan as well as against the US. The involvement of Washington is being regarded as an attempt to prevent the rise of China. To quote the nationalist paper Global Times, “Japan must abandon the illusion that China will retreat in the face of Tokyo’s provocation”.

It is also evident that both China and Japan are not keen on a full-fledged conflict as this will greatly affect their growth as well as the existing peace and stability in the region. The economic integration makes it further complicated. How Beijing reacts to this development will be a major test of its claims of peaceful rise.



Gunjan Singh,
Research Assistant, Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses
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