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Thayer Senkaku/Diaoyu Islands Dispute

Thayer Senkaku/Diaoyu Islands Dispute

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Published by Carlyle Alan Thayer
An assessment of the current China/Taiwan-Japan dispute over the Senkak/Diaoyu islands and the prospects of a shooting war.
An assessment of the current China/Taiwan-Japan dispute over the Senkak/Diaoyu islands and the prospects of a shooting war.

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Categories:Types, Research, History
Published by: Carlyle Alan Thayer on Sep 25, 2012
Copyright:Attribution Non-commercial

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02/12/2014

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Background Brief:Senkaku/Diaoyu Islands Dispute:History, Nationalism andInternational LawCarlyle A. ThayerSeptember 24, 2012
[client name deleted]1-Anti-Japanese protests have been seen in Hong Kong and also Taiwanese andChinese protestors joined together in a mutual protest in New York last week overthe Senkaku/Diaoyu islands. What is your take on this? Also, can this issue bringtogether Hong Kong Chinese and Taiwanese that have historically been anti-Beijing?ANSWER: There are many sources of Chinese nationalism and anti-Japanesesentiment is among the most virulent. The greater Chinese community is verydiverse. Not all Hong Kong residents are anti-Beijing, pro-Beijing citizens are likely to
support Beijing’s territorial claims. There is a pro
-Japan sentiment in Taiwan among aplurality of the population. But there is also a traditional nationalism among the oldguard. Overseas Taiwanese may be moti
vated by glories of China’s past. They would
prefer to see Taiwan have a more independent stance internationally. A momentaryflare up over territorial disputes over the Senkaku/Diaoyu is not sufficient to bringthese diverse communities together in a long-lasting coalition.2-Japan argues that it surveyed the Senkaku/Diaoyu islands in the late 19th centuryand found them to be Terra nullius (Latin: no man's land); subsequently Chinaacquiesced to Japanese sovereignty until the 1970s when the islands were said to berich in oil and gas reserves. In light of this fact, how can China now claim the islands?
Isn’t the real heart of the matter hydrocarbons?
ANSWER: Japan annexed the Senkaku/Diaoyu islands in 1895 following a war withImperial China. They fell into American hands after the Second World War as theoccupying power and reverted back to Japan in 1972. There is no record I am aware
of that China (either Nationalist or Communist) contested American’s occupation of 
Japan and control over the Senkakus.
China’s complaints arose in 1971 when it was
clear the U.S. intended to return them to Japan. In a legal sense the key factor iscontinual occupation and effective administration. The extent of hydrocarbons isunknown. Potential energy resources are one aspect. The Senkaku/Diaoyu form part
of an island chain blocking China’s access to the Western Pacific. They are located
near shipping lanes. Fisheries are also important.
Thayer Consultancy
ABN # 65 648 097 123
 
2
3-
How much of China’s anger over this issue can be traced back to Japanese
imperialism in the 1930s and 40s? Is Beijing using this to stoke anti-Japanesesentiment?ANSWER: Japanese imperialism of the 1930s is one of the explanations and certainlythe coincident of the the Mudken incident with the Senkaku/Diaoyu islands addedfuel to the fire. Beijing tolerated the anti-Japanese protests but when they turnedviolent and threatened to get out of control, the authorities curtailed them. The keyissue is historic Chinese claims to the Diaoyu islands and grievances against Japan forhaving annexed them when China was weak.4-
Do you think Japan’s purchasing of the three islands earlier this month (knowing
and realizing how Beijing would react) is an act to save face over an 2010 incident inthe area? At that time a Chinese trawler collided with two Japanese patrol ships in
the direct vicinity of the disputed islands but then Japanese authorities’ suddenly
released the Chinese captain after a 17-day arrest and detention. It was interpreted
by some as a ‘humiliating retreat' for Japan and seen in t
he context of an increasingly
‘weak’ Japan.
 ANSWER: I do not see any connection between the events of 2010 and the present.In 2010 Japan changed policy and actually detained the Chinese skipper. In the pasthe would have been deported relatively swiftly. The central government acted toforestall a move by the mayor of Tokyo whose plans to develop the islands would
have caused even more fury on the mainland. The key to the skipper’s release was
the imposition by China of economic sanctions, such as the suspension of exports of rare earths to Japan. Japan apparently did not anticipate this reaction.5-What mechanisms can be put into place to handle such territorial disputes? -Particularly in light of the fact that The United Nations Convention on the Law of the
Sea doesn’t appear to be working due to competing claims and the fact that it calls
for parties with conflicting claims to work out disagreements among themselves.ANSWER: UNCLOS was not designed to solve sovereignty disputes over territory.UNCLOS is a vehicle for resolving disputes over sovereign jurisdiction when maritimezones overlap. The only realistic mechanism is for China and Japan to reach adiplomatic understanding not to escalate their dispute after the current contretempscool down. In the past the two sides worked out a joint development scheme todevelop the resources in the disputed area. A joint authority could be appointed tomanage resource exploitation.6-Could this turn into a shooting war? If so, which side has the advantage,economically, militarily?ANSWER: the likelihood of a shooting war is very low. China has so far dispatchedunarmed China Marine Surveillance vessels. Japan has deployed its Coast Guard.Both have kept their armed forces out of the disputed area. Both sides have a lot tolose economically if a shooting war erupted. A conflict would not only affect bilateraltwo-way trade and investment, but also their maritime trade, including theimportation of oil. A shooting war could escalate and draw in the United States.China is not hankering for a confrontation with the U.S. Navy.

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