Tensions with Japan Increase as China Sends Patrol Boats to Disputed Islands

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Zhang Jiansong / Xin Hua / Reuters

Crew members of China's surveillance ship Haijian 50 take pictures as they sail on waters near the disputed islands, called Senkaku in Japan and Diaoyu in China, in the East China Sea on Sept. 14, 2012.

The standoff between China and Japan over a group of uninhabited islets in the East China Sea continues to escalate, raising fears that the world’s second and third largest economies could stumble into armed conflict. On Friday, six Chinese patrol boats approached the Japanese-controlled islands, which are called Diaoyu in Chinese and Senkaku in Japanese. That was four more China Maritime Surveillance vessels than China had previously acknowledged dispatching to the islands northeast of Taiwan. “It is deplorable that the invasion of the territorial waters happened at this time and we strongly request that the Chinese authorities leave our territory,” Japan’s Chief Cabinet Secretary Osamu Fujimura told reporters Friday morning.

On Friday China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs described the patrol as a “rights defense law enforcement action, to reflect the Chinese government’s jurisdiction over the Diaoyu Islands and safeguard China’s maritime rights and interests.” China was infuriated by the Japanese government’s purchase last week of three of the five islands for $26 million from a Japanese family that has claimed ownership to them for decades. China called the move illegal and a violation of Chinese sovereignty. Taiwan, which also claims the Diaoyu, accused Japan of infringing on its territory.

On Friday afternoon Japan’s Kyodo News Service reported that all six of the Chinese ships had left the waters surrounding the islands, bringing a temporary easing of the dispute. But concerns remain over the potential for a clash or even an accidental collision that could see risk of fighting between the two sides. “How serious is this? It’s bloody serious,” says Ian Storey, a senior fellow at Institute of Southeast Asian Studies in Singapore. “The Chinese are incensed by this, and it comes a particularly sensitive time.”

China’s ruling Communist Party has been preparing for this fall’s Communist Party congress, which is expected to see President Hu Jintao and Prime Minister Wen Jiabao begin handing over power. The man expected to take over Hu’s position, Vice President Xi Jinping, hasn’t been seen in public for nearly two weeks, fanning speculation about his health and political future. Confrontation with Japan doesn’t help the harmonious image the party wants to portray during the transition, but it has no incentive to compromise on an issue of sovereignty either. “In the run-up to the party congress certainly the government can’t be seen as being weak,” says Storey. “The response would be a nationalist backlash.” At the same time, the conflict with Japan has helped draw domestic attention from questions about China’s leadership, and a robust response helps boost the Communist Party’s legitimacy. “Since the 1990s … nationalism has replaced Communism as the justification for the one-party state, which requires stirring up anti-Western – above all, anti-Japanese – sentiment,” Ian Buruma, an author and professor at Bard College, wrote in Friday’s South China Morning Post. “This is never difficult in China, given the painful past, and it usefully deflects public attention from the failings and frustrations of living in a dictatorship.”

Anti-Japanese protests have erupted in several Chinese cities in recent weeks. On Aug. 27 a man ripped the Japanese flag from a car carrying the Japanese ambassador while it was stopped behind two vehicles in Beijing. While the rallies have remained small and closely monitored by police, there is a history of such demonstrations turning violent, as when hundreds of rioters threw rocks and smashed windows at the Japanese Embassy in Beijing in 2005. On Friday Japan repeated a warning to its citizens in China to pay attention to their personal safety, and listed six cases of Japanese being harassed or assaulted because of their nationality, including one person who had noodles dumped on them.

(PHOTOSAnti-Japan Protests Hit China’s Capital)

Unlike Chinese disputes with some of its Southeast Asian neighbors over South China Sea claims, the Diaoyu conflict carries the added weight of Imperial Japan’s brutal wartime occupation of China. The Diaoyu Islands fell under Japanese control after the First Sino-Japanese War in 1895, when Japan took over Taiwan and its surrounding islands. After World War II the U.S. administered the Diaoyu, returning them to Japanese administration in the 1970s. China argues the islands have long been recognized as its territory. Japan says the Diaoyu were no man’s land before 1895 and should be considered part of Okinawa. As with most disputes over islands in the western Pacific, the potential for undersea oil and gas reserves raises the stakes for all claimants. While the U.S. says it doesn’t take a position on the island’s sovereignty, it says that as they are administered by Japan they fall under the U.S.-Japan Mutual Defense Treaty, meaning the U.S. could be obligated to aid Japan in the event of an attack on them.

The last time tensions reached this level was in 2010, when Japan’s coast guard detained a Chinese fishing boat captain who rammed their vessels near the Diaoyu. But recent events have raised the animosity even higher. This spring Tokyo Governor Shintaro Ishihara said that he wanted to purchase four of the islands from the Kurihara family. The family bought the islands in the 1970s from the descendants of a Japanese businessman who ran a fish processing plant there in the early 1900s. Japan’s central government, feeling that it would be less provocative to have the islands in its possession than under the control of the aggressively nationalist Ishihara, bought them instead. But the distinction has made little difference to China. In mid-August a group 14 Chinese activists sailed from Hong Kong and landed on the Diaoyu, where they were detained by Japanese authorities and returned. Days later a group of Japanese nationalists made their own trip to the Diaoyu, which set off protests in several Chinese cities.

After Japan confirmed it had purchased the islands, China reported a series of Diaoyu baselines—land points from which maritime claims are delineated—to the U.N. That puts China in the position of having to defend those claims. “The baseline announcement implies that China needs to follow it up with actions,” says Stephanie Kleine-Ahlbrandt, the North East Asia director for the International Crisis Group, an ngo that seeks to prevent armed conflict. “The presence of Chinese law enforcement vessels in the area will increase the chances that the Japanese coast guard feels it needs to respond. If there is an incident it will be extremely difficult to walk back given the current state of diplomatic relations, the delicate Chinese transition and the high-pitched nationalist sentiment in China.” That sentiment will only increase in the coming days. September 18 is the 81st anniversary of the Mukden Incident, which saw the launch of a broad Japanese invasion of Manchuria. It 2010 the anniversary, coming shortly after the detention of the Chinese fishing boat captain, triggered broad protest in China, and it likely will again this year.

84 comments
HayashiLin
HayashiLin

That was US' fault. When Japan lost in 1945, Diaoyu/Senkaku should be returned to China. And Why did you say " Japanese controlled islands"? Senkaku just didn't belong to Japan. 

Jack_A1
Jack_A1

The fact is that Diaoyu Islands belong to China. Someone said that Japan controlled  the islands in the past decades .But we,Chinese , defeated Japan after the World War 2, and should get back Diaoyu Islands. The question was why we couldn't take them back. It was America .The country always take any methods to counterbalance China. Obviously ,it takes China as its enemy. Do you think Japan will buy our Chinese islands without American permission and fight against Chinese who  has nuclear weapons and is the largest  trade exporter of Japan? If  you say yes ,just refer to history book to know the relationship between America and Japan after World War 2.

Jack_A1
Jack_A1

The fact is that Diaoyu Islands belong to China. Someone said that Japan controlled  the islands in the past decades .But we,Chinese , defeated Japan after the World War 2, and should get back Diaoyu Islands. The question was why we couldn't take them back. It was America .The country always take any methods to counterbalance China. Obviously ,it takes China as its enemy. Do you think Japan will buy our Chinese islands without American permission and fight against Chinese who  has nuclear weapons and is the largest  trade exporter of Japan? If  you say yes ,just refer to history book to know the relationship between America and Japan after World War 2.

Jack_A1
Jack_A1

It is a fact that Diaoyu Islands belong  to China. Somebody said the islands were controlled by Japan in the past decades. But our Chinese defeated Janpan after world war Ⅱ, and the question was why  we couldn't  get back the islands.Obviouly, it was America. America took our China as its enemy, and  handed islands which should be China after the war ,to Janpan secretly .The reason why America did this was just to counterbalance China.So if  China wants to get back islands, the enemy is America more than Janpa. Do you think Japan can defeat China which has nuclear weapons?

Michael Cadeliña
Michael Cadeliña

US has the authority to give the islands to Japan. If not from the atomic bombs dropped by the US in Japan in 1945, China will still be a province of Japan.

rory2012
rory2012

 Now I know why the world is F##K.

Dinesh Chand
Dinesh Chand

and the camera they are holding is obviously "Made in China"

alice071785
alice071785

china, dont base your claims on merely historic basis. base it on international maritime law! its like saying china is still part of mongolia because of genghiz khan or its like saying india is still part of greece because of alexander the great.

alice071785
alice071785

china is trying and pretending to be a superpower nation, 

bullying its weak neighbor countries by bragging their substandard arsenals made from low quality products, made by workers who were maltreated, working overtime without pay, paid 10 dollars per day...  good luck china with your self-initiated-soon-to-be-war with the US and its allies. your stupid leaders will pay the price later and ur people will suffer.

rory2012
rory2012

There is no back down from China since China present the document of base line to UN. China decides to settle the whole issue now and takes no more nonsense from Japan and USA,both signed their treaty and transferred Chinese properties which both USA and Japan didn't own.

Sam Winchester
Sam Winchester

If this does actually escalate into armed conflict, World War III will soon follow

breindrein
breindrein

Maybe some random group just needs to detonate dirty bombs packed with radiation over the islands so that nobody wants it. If I get killed because of nuclear fallout from WW3 over a spec of dirt in the sea I will be pretty miffed.

hocksen lim
hocksen lim

I don't know how many Americans know Chinese history ? 90% Americans don't know America history

Mario Nelson
Mario Nelson

haha tell that to the mexican u,s took much mexica terrytory by force

Mario Nelson
Mario Nelson

tell the same to mexico u,s,a took much mexican territory by force

rory2012
rory2012

Show time between China and USA.Japan is out of the equation.

duduong
duduong

During the 50 years of Japanese occupation from 1895 to 1945, this island was administered as part of Taiwan by the Japanese government, not as part of Okinawa. Why are American reporters simply incapable of mentioning this fact?

Shuami
Shuami

Gee! The  post by "sedonagirl" with 73 'likes" is under "review"! I just hope it  doesn't simply "disappear".

von_Richter
von_Richter

 not really helpful thougts with some racism sprinkled into it. Seems like you are the type of person, who would welcome war.... oh well

von_Richter
von_Richter

 It will not happen again Jay. Dont worry. I dont think there will be a war. There is too much at stake economically speaking. Japan needs China to sell its products to and China needs Japanese Investments. Its really not in the Interest of the EU and USA either. The World Banking Federation will prevent that =)

Shuami
Shuami

I believe there is an "unofficial" red line drawn by the Chinese PLA--that is if the  Japanese government is to put military settlement on the islands. If that happens then all bets are off. It's not just the PLA or Chinese government, it's also the vast population of Chinese, on the mainland, in Taiwan, and overseas, won't allow that to happen. I do believe that the Japanese government is not crazy enough to allow that, for foreseeable future.

von_Richter
von_Richter

"What if Germany has a shrine for Hitler?" that would be quite funny. Me and my friends would be the first to take that down ;p

Shuami
Shuami

And that clearly demonstrates the difference between the Germans and the Japanese with its cognizance to its deeds in the WWII. To be fair, I know there are Japanese who are equally peace loving and against its past imperialism. Unfortunately I don't think they represent the main stream thinking under the current political atmosphere in Japan.

von_Richter
von_Richter

 as far as i have observed up till now the conflict is (thank god) limited to squabbles, some demonstrations and being a though guy... not really comparable to what has happened in WW2. So the aggressive moves (China now and Japan then) cant really be compared.

Xiaolei Wu
Xiaolei Wu

The following thesis contains a full length discussion of the dispute written by neither Chinese nor Japanese. Before you decide which side you support, go through it first, especially the history part of the island

http://ir.canterbury.ac.nz/bit...

alice071785
alice071785

china has to follow present INTERNATIONAL MARITIME LAW, not their PRIMITIVE, PREHISTORIC, STUPID, BASE-LESS, ILLEGAL so-called historic territorial claim

alice071785
alice071785

china and their PLA is ready. however, japan, US and the world who love freedom are ready to take down these chinese little-eyed freaks who are committing crime againts humanity by capturing the whole china sea. let us be reminded by history that those who committed crime againts humanity got EXECUTED  just like the NAZis leaders and sadam hussein, bin laden... 

swift2010
swift2010

send Tony Blair to mediate the dispute

alice071785
alice071785

china's PLA is ready. however japan, US and the world are all ready to fight for freedom againts these chinese little-eyed-freaks who is committing crime againts humanity by trying to capture the whole china sea, 

Shuami
Shuami

It's not too hard to spot the bigot(s) in this forum.

TheMovingFinger
TheMovingFinger

America should rejoice that the phrase "ugly Americans" can now be replaced with "ugly Chinese"

Jaycasey
Jaycasey

If Japan backs down or fails to take action if the Chinese push it too far they will regret it.  The Chinese will not cease expanding their territory. We know how this ended when the Japanese were the ones expanding their territory and power a few decades ago. I hope the Chinese are smarter than the Japanese were in the 1930s.