China and Japan have shared a long and contentious history that only a few other countries have since enjoyed. The relations between these two countries can be dated thousands of years ago. Since those historical times, the relations between them have been in flux. However, the tides between the two countries turned in parallel contrast when Japan wholly embraced modernization while China in an almost simultaneous reverse twist became a victim of the same modernization. Although none of the two countries was prepared for the massive dynamics, Japan despised China to the point of resenting the Chinese weakness. This made Japan feel justified to invade the once great nation they used to admire adorably. However, China begun to rise with time lessening the long term economic gap between her and Japan. It is these twists that have seen the two countries get into conflicts, with each in quest to regain what they once owned. In this paper, I will highlight the political and economic reasons that underlie the maritime disputes between the two now economic giants.
History of the Diaoyu Islands Dispute and its ownership chronology
Diaoyu (Senkaku) Islands are a group of eight uninhabited islands which are in the East Asia Sea and controlled by Japan since 1895, but which Republic Of China (Taiwan) and the People’s Republic of China (PRC) Claim ownership since 1971 (Jim.sheng, 2011).The Islands were administered as part of Taiwan for several centuries and were exclusively used by Chinese fishermen as a fishing base (Kiyoshi, 1972).
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The dispute arose from the Chinese feeling that the Japanese were infringing onto their Exclusive Economic Zones (EEZ) by controlling a land that is far from the internationally agreed 200 Nautical Miles from the coast. However, the Japanese argue that the Islands in the epicenter of the dispute lies on their jurisdiction thus they are acting in accordance to their policies and international agreements on offshore resources exploitation. This presents an intricate situation that leads to many queries as to who really owns the Island and whether the Island was part of Taiwan or Okinawa before 1895.
How then did the Islands end up to be controlled by Japan?
Japan took Liu Chiu Islands from china during the Ching Dynasty rule. The Diaoyu Islands however remained under the administration of Taiwan which was part of China (Huang, 1997) until it ceded Taiwan to Japan after a defeat in Sino-Japan war under the Shimonoseki Treaty. Since the Diaoyu were part of the Taiwan, this meant that the Islands were also ceded to Japan. Later, Taiwan was returned to China upon the Cairo and Potsdam Declarations in 1943.This treaty nullified all agreements between Japan and China before 1941 thus making them null and Void (Lung-chu Chen, 1972). Japan however, maintained that these Islands were not part of the treaties and thus they were to remain under their control (Huang, 1997).The three parties involved, that is Japan, China and Taiwan remained silent on the issue till the United Nations Economic Commission for Asia and the Far East (ECAFE), in 1969 suggested that there could be large hydrocarbons deposit on the waters of these islands (McCormack, 2010).
U.S and Japan in 1970 signed the Okinawa Reversion Treaty which returned the controversial Diaoyu Islands to the Japanese Government. However, the Republic of China (Taiwan) and The People’s Republic of China (Mainland China) challenged the treaty immediately prompting a new dispute. Later on, China was to state that Taiwan and the Diaoyu Islands were in the China’s Jurisdiction and that any exploitation of resources in this area by foreign countries would not be tolerated (Huang, 1997).
Amidst occasional disparities in opinions, the most recent was the Japanese decision in December 2010 to mark 14 January as the Colonization day of the Islands and a crash of fishing vessels at the Islands. This attracted a lot of protest from the Chinese. Somehow, Japan appears to be used in infringing on the Chinese democracy with most often adopting decision that would injure the bilateral diplomatic relationships between the two countries with Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao saying that China would not yield or compromise to issues pertaining to sovereignty, territorial integrity, and national unity. (McCormack, 2010).
Something that is prominent is the weight put on the issue surrounding these Islands. Although all parties involved conceded to the fact that Japan was controlling the Diaoyu Islands since 1895 till the World War II period, China differs and questions how Japan took up the Islands in 1895 and whether the Islands were free for taking as the Japanese argue. This therefore leads to questions as to why these Islands would be of such importance to some otherwise great power.
Political and Economic reasons of China’s claim to the Diaoyu Islands
With the unwavering Chinese position towards the Diaoyu Islands, it is evident that the Island holds water to this country, both politically and economically. It is noted that the dispute can only be solved by addressing other underlying issues between the two democracies; otherwise the dispute is just a time bomb slowly rekindling.
Politically, none of the parties involved want to cease grounds since this would be interpreted as compromise and a sign of weakness thus could lead to even more challenges on international claims. In event of either nation making concessions, it would make it vulnerable in other areas of negotiation, a fact that China notes with diligence. Interestingly, China has for so long moderated on its actions and is most often seen to avoid conflict that would call for armed resolutions. Armed conflict would lead to a political imbalance between the two countries and would greatly dent the diplomatic relationship between the two powers and with the international society. A violent resolution is however improbable. The two parties would further be polarized by the conservative Japanese politics and the rising nationalistic tide in China (Pike, 2011).
Something that would however act in an intricate antagonism is the rapidly growing Chinese economy and the consequent energy requirements which will lead to need for exploitation of more oil reserves such as those thought to be in the disputed Islands. This would however enflame the dispute that have been there for a century with Japan over sovereignty and jurisdiction powers of these territories. In event of such military conflicts, both parties acknowledge that it could disrupt the balance of alliances in Northeast Asia.
This perspective presents a delicate dilemma that China has always avoided. However, Japan has acted contrary and is most often considered to be doing things that are in line with its best interest. Although the geographical scope of an archipelagic country includes all space that constitute a geographical, economical and political entity such as islands, waters and other natural terrains of the Sea (Division for Ocean Affairs and the Law of the Sea, 2011) ,Japan have overlooked the historical fact that the Diaoyu Islands constituted an entity with other China’s territories. This is therefore a political and sovereignty infringement that China would wish to set right.
The Chinese rule would also wish to protect its people’s economic status by preserving its exclusive economic zones. Bearing in mind that the Island lies within the Chinese jurisdiction and yet it is under the control of the Japanese rule shows that Japan would in its best interest wish to join China in pursuing a joint exploitation of the resources in the disputed Islands and their adjacent waters. This is a direct infringement on the Chinese economy by Japan.
Given the economic relations between the two countries where each country serves as a ready market to the products of the other, they may not be ready to lose each other due to a conflict resulting from the maritime dispute. This is amongst the factors that have made it very hard to settle the disputes amicably without denting the diplomatic relations both intrinsically and extrinsically and which continue to motivate the dispute (Little, 2009).
China preferred the dispute to be resolved on bilaterally rather than escalate to multilateral levels. From one perspective, this shows that China understands that in event of military resolution, U.S would side with the Japanese side, not just like a staunch ally to the Japanese but also in the best interest of the Western Oil companies that would benefit from oil exploration in Diaoyu Islands. This would not only taint the Chinese international image but would also have negative implications on the fast growing Chinese economy (Pike, 2011).
The political circles believe that the US decision to hand over the Islands in 1972 was deliberate so as to curb the growing relation ties between the two countries. US anticipated the occurrence of the dispute that would break the ties between these two countries and as well bring them under control (Zhaokui, 2010). In 2010, during the ASEAN summit, Hillary Clinton called for multilateralism in resolving the maritime dispute. This did not auger well with the China’s political sphere. This call was seen as part of the US strategy to break the Sino-Japan relations which it had ignited in the beginning. They argued that America had implemented a two-sided policy in the Diaoyu Islands incident where on one hand; US encouraged Japan’s hard-liners who took a strong attitude towards China. On the other side, political elites noted that US latter called for dialogue between the two states only when the conflict had become fiercer and the Sino-Japanese relations had greatly deteriorated (Jiangyong, 2010).
In conclusion, there is no country among those involved that hold overwhelming military power than the other hence the chances of occurrence of armed conflict are gleam. However, the events and differences in opinions should be handled with due care by each party to avoid democratic and nationalistic infringement.