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Thayer The Senkaku Island Disute: Risk to U.S. Rebalancing in the Asia-Pacific?

Thayer The Senkaku Island Disute: Risk to U.S. Rebalancing in the Asia-Pacific?

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Published by Carlyle Alan Thayer
An analysis of seven major developments shaping the dispute over the Senkaku/Diaoyu islands between China and Japan. A sic-point net assessment is offered.
An analysis of seven major developments shaping the dispute over the Senkaku/Diaoyu islands between China and Japan. A sic-point net assessment is offered.

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Published by: Carlyle Alan Thayer on Oct 19, 2012
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11/13/2012

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U.S. Naval Institute 
 (http://www.usni.org)  Home > The Senkaku Islands Dispute: Risk to U.S. Rebalancing in the Asia-Pacific?
The Senkaku Islands Dispute: Risk to U.S. Rebalancing in the Asia-Pacific?
Print [1]by Carlyle A. ThayerOctober 16, 2012In September a major diplomatic crisis erupted between China and Japan over a group of five uninhabited islets and three barren rocks located 120 nautical miles northeast of Taiwan, 200 nautical miles southeast of Okinawa and 200 nautical miles east of China.Collectively these islets and rocks are known as the Senkaku islands in Japanese and theDiaoyutai in Chinese. Japan, China and Taiwan each claim sovereignty over theSenkakus/Diaoyutai.
Historical Background
Japan acquired the Senkaku Islands in 1895 after defeating China in the First Sino-JapaneseWar. Under the terms of the Treaty of Shimonoseki, China transferred sovereignty over bothTaiwan and the Senkakus to Japan. The Senkakus came under U.S. control when it occupiedJapan and Okinawa in 1945 at the end of World War II. In 1972 the U.S. returned Okinawaand the Senkakus to Japan. The Senkakus are presently administered as part of Okinawaprefecture.View Senkaku Islands[2] in a larger map In 1969 a survey conducted under the auspices of the United Nations determined that therewere potentially large oil and gas deposits in the seabed surrounding the Senkakus.According to Japanese sources, the discovery of hydrocarbons was the catalyst thatreignited Chinese claims to the Diaoyutai. Both Taiwan and China claim sovereignty basedon Ming Dynasty documents listing the Diaoyutai as prized possessions of the Chineseemperor.In September 1972 China and Japan normalized diplomatic relations. Six years later bothsides signed a bilateral fishing agreement and reached an understanding to set aside theirdispute over the Senkakus/Diaoyutai as a matter for future generations to decide. In 2008China and Japan agreed to jointly explore for oil in waters off the Senkakus; but thatundertaking was never implemented.The Senkaku Islands became a point of friction between China and Japan in September 2010when a Chinese fishing boat captain deliberately rammed a Japanese coast guard vessel in
 
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waters off the Senkakus. Previously, when fishing incidents occurred, Japan deported theoffenders back to China. In this case the Japanese apprehended the Chinese captain. China
viewed his arrest as a violation of their 1978 understanding; the captain’s detention became
a major diplomatic incident. When China suspended the export of rare earths to Japan, theJapanese government backed down and released the Chinese skipper.
Key Developments of the Crisis
Of the five islets in the Senkaku islands, four are owned privately while the fifth is owned bythe Japanese government. In April 2012, Shintaro Ishihara, the nationalist governor of Tokyo, announced he would purchase and develop the Senkakus in order to protectJapanese sovereignty. The Tokyo mayor set up a fund to solicit private donations from theJapanese public.From mid-August to mid-September the dispute over the Senkaku Islands became a full-blown diplomatic crisis consisting of seven interrelated and overlapping developments.The first was the announcement by Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda in July that the Japanesegovernment would buy the privately owned islets to ensure that the central government,not the mayor of Tokyo, exercised control over relations with China.On Sept. 6 it was announced that the Japanese government reached preliminary agreementto purchase three is
lets from their owners for $30 million. In an effort to allay China’s
reaction, the Japanese government announced it would strengthen the presence of thecoast guard in the waters surrounding the Senkakus to prevent private citizens from Japan,China or Taiwan from conducting demonstrations on the islets. Further, the prime ministeragreed to a proposal by his foreign minister, Koishiro Gemba, that there would be no newconstruction on the Senkakus and only minimal repair to existing infrastructure would becarried out.
 Japanese Coast Guard interdict a fishing vessel near the Senkaku Islands
 The second development concerned the revival of political tensions between South Koreaand Japan coincidently with growing tensions between China and Japan. On August 10,South Korean President Lee Myung-bak paid a visit to Dokdo island in the Sea of Japan.Japan claims sovereignty over the island which it calls Takeshima and recalled itsambassador from Seoul in protest. Tensions were inflamed on August 19 when 30 South
 
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Korean citizens unveiled a 1.2 meter monument on the island inscribed with the words
“Dokdo, Republic of Korea.”
The third development comprised the intervention of nationalist citizens from the claimantcountries. On Aug. 15, 14 Chinese activists from Hong Kong sailed to the Senkakus, landedon one of the islets, and planted the Chinese flag. They were detained by Japaneseauthorities and immediately deported. Four days later an estimated 150 Japanesenationalists journeyed from Okinawa to the Senkakus. Several jumped ship, swam ashoreand raised Japanese flags.The fourth dimension was the eruption of anti-Japanese protests in China in response to thepurchase of the three islets. Anti-Japanese demonstrations first took place following Prime
Minister Noda’s July announcement. Violent anti
-Japanese demonstrations eruptedfollowing the landing of flag-waving Japanese nationalists on Aug. 19. Japanese cars andrestaurants in China were attacked.Chinese domestic nationalist sentiment was further inflamed when the Japanese mediareported details of the purchase of the three Senkaku islets by the central government aweek before the 81st anniversary of the Mukden Incident marking the start of Imperial
Japan’s invasion of northern China. On the weekend of Sept. 15 massive anti
-Japaneseprotests took place in 85 Chinese cities, including Beijing, where crowds demonstratedoutside the Japanese Embassy.Chinese nationalists set fire to Japanese companies forcing the Japanese owners to close for
business. Throughout this period the Chinese media portrayed Japan’s action as the illegalnationalization of Chinese territory. On Sept. 19, Japan’s National Police Agency reporte
dthat Chinese netizens launched cyber attacks against 19 Japanese websites.The fifth dimension of the Senkaku crisis involved the multifaceted reactions by the Chinesegovernment against Japan. On Sept. 5, for example, the Chinese Foreign Ministry called
Japan’s purchase of the islets “illegal and invalid.” On Sept. 11, the Chinese Foreign Ministrysaid that Japan’s actions “cannot alter the fact that Japanese side stole the islands fromChina.” China officially released base points and baselines of its
claimed territorial watersaround the Diaoyutai and formally filed a copy with the United Nations secretary general.Senior Chinese leaders weighed in to bring political pressure to bear on Japan. At the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation Summit in Vladivostok (Sept. 8 and 9), President Hu Jintaopersonally warned Prime Minister Noda that nationalizing the Diaoyutai was illegal. Inaddition, Premier Wen Jiabao and Wu Banggu, chairman of the Standing Committee of the
National People’s Congress, both issued s
eparate warnings to Japan.
China’s defense minister, General Liang Guanglie, said in public that China reserved the rightto take “further actions.” On the weekend of September 15, the People’s Liberation Army
Navy conducted a large naval exercise involving the firing of 40 missiles.The most serious Chinese response was the dispatch of unarmed China Marine Surveillance
(CMS) ships to the Senkakus where they were ordered to conduct “routine monitoring.” On
Sept. 14, six CMS ships were reported on station; two ships entered Japanese waters andwere warned off by Japanese coast guard vessels. The CMS ships retorted that they were inChinese territorial waters and requested the Japanese to withdraw. Japan summoned theChinese ambassador in Tokyo to lodge a protest.

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Carlyle Alan Thayer added this note
CORRECTION: The official Japanese position on the Senkaku's is Japan incorporated these islands into its territory in January 1895 by a decision of the Cabinet (occupation of terra nullius). These islands were not part of islands which were ceded from the Qing Dynasty to Japan in accordance with the Shimonoseki Treaty, which was signed in April 1985.
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