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of errors in East China Sea By
America's "pivot to Asia" has
placed it out on a limb in the western Pacific.
It looks as though a lot of its stated
strategic priorities are spurious.
is no threat to freedom of navigation.
Support of an ASEAN+Japan united front vs
the People's Republic of China (PRC) increases
instability and makes a peaceful settlement of
overlapping resource development and exploitation
interests less likely.
unproven submarine-based nuclear deterrent doesn't
look as if it's worth
the effort to bottle it up in the PRC's coastal
It looks like the dirty secret of
US policy in the region is that it welcomes
instability: a virtuous cycle of assertiveness and
resentment that polarizes relations between the
PRC and Vietnam, Japan and the Philippines, and
pushes the tinier folk into the welcoming arms of
the United States.
A clever policy.
But, as a noted philosopher once said,
there's a fine line between clever ... and stupid.
We might be tiptoeing close to that line
in the matter of Japan and the Senkaku/Diaoyu
This story simply is not
following the "China bullies innocent and helpless
neighbor" script, either in the media or in the
diplomatic arena formed by the US-Japan-China
First of all, it can be asserted
with some confidence that the Senkakus, as Japan
calls them, or Diaoyu Islands to the Chinese are
not a core interest, historically or otherwise, of
Japan but are a relatively recent imperial
acquisition dating to its development of a modern
blue-water navy that allowed it to project power
beyond its coastal waters and colonize Taiwan. A
quick glance at a map will persuade an impartial
observer that these uninhabited rocks - 100
nautical miles from Kaohsiung but 500 miles away
from Okinawa, let alone the Japanese main islands
- fall into Taiwan's bailiwick.
what one informed party recently declared:
Japan's arguments are based on a
cabinet decision made in 1895 to incorporate the
Senkaku Islands within Okinawa prefecture. While
the statement is often made that the Senkakus
are "Japan's inherent territory", can territory
really be called inherent if it has only
belonged to Japan for about 100 years?
On the other hand, it is clear from a
historical standpoint that China extended
military influence over the area around the
Senkaku Islands from about the 14th century.
China therefore argues that since the Senkakus
are part of Taiwan and because Taiwan is a part
of China, therefore the Senkakus belong to
Because Japan relinquished its
territorial rights to the Chishima [Kuril]
islands and Taiwan under the 1951 San Francisco
Peace Treaty, China's argument cannot be
described as completely baseless, even though
there may be a difference of interpretation.
While this may be difficult for the
Japanese to accept, they should first recognize
that the Senkaku Islands are not Japan's
"inherent territory", but a "disputed area".
This analysis was not proffered by
China's Ministry of Foreign Affairs; it was
provided to Asahi Shimbun by one Ukeru Magosaki,
who "was a Foreign Ministry diplomat who served
as director general of what was then the
Intelligence and Analysis Bureau".
The weakness of Japan's claim to
these distant islands demands the most nuanced
provocation to keep the focus on the PRC as the
bad guy throwing his weight around.
noteworthy example was 2010's Senkaku/Daioyutai
dust-up over the matter of the collision of
Chinese Captain Zhan Qixiong's fishing vessel with
Japanese patrol boats.
successfully kept both on the hot-headed captain's
initial transgression and the PRC's subsequent
rare-earth-related shenanigans, while calculated
escalation of the incident by Japanese cabinet
minister Seiji Maehara (his decision to prosecute
Zhan in a Japanese court in a deliberate
provocation) was easily ignored, at least in the
This year's provocation is
a little more difficult to spin: Tokyo Governor
Shintaro Ishihara's campaign to purchase some of
the Senkaku/Diaoyu Islands from their private
Maehara is a slick, pro-American
neoliberal anxious to play Tony Blair in Asia and
enable the US agenda in the region.
Ishihara is a right-wing, rising-sun
racist of the old school (the polite term of art
is "unrepentant nationalist"), previously best
known for a piece of America-bashing titled The
Japan That Can Say No and for denying the
Nanjing Massacre. Ishihara is publicly and
unapologetically using the island purchase to yank
China's chain and generate some more political
heat for his party faction and himself.
Japan's national government has been
forced into the ridiculous position of getting in
a bidding war with Ishihara, only to be told by
the unknown private owner of the islands that
Ishihara is the preferred buyer because the owner
represents a family "with major land holdings that
reportedly distrusts the central government
because much of its land was seized by the state
during and after World War II". 
Ishihara is gleefully refusing to back
down from the central government, claiming that to
do so would break faith with the Japanese
nationalists who have already selflessly
contributed the equivalent of US$17 million to the
purchase fund. He further roiled the waters by
declaring his desire to land a team on one of the
Senkakus to examine the Tokyo governorate's
expected future property, apparently because only
an on-the-spot land survey could establish fair
value for these uninhabited rocks.
farce is not popular among Japan's foreign-policy
specialists, among whom must be numbered its
ambassador to China, ex-businessman Uichiro Niwa.
Niwa was recalled from Beijing for a day.
The New York Times' Martin Fackler
described Niwa's recall as part of a strategizing
session on the Senkaku/Diaoyu issue. 
In fact, Niwa was recalled for
consultations to Tokyo because he was on record as
questioning the island-purchase scheme and,
according to Asahi Shimbun, it was necessary to
bring him back to make sure he would loyally and
professionally support a foreign-policy gambit he
personally considers to be stupid.
The government instructed its
ambassador to China to "accurately" convey to
Beijing its stance that the disputed Senkaku
Islands are Japanese territory and to protest
repeated incursions by Chinese vessels into
The move was intended
to send a strong message to China and rein in
Ambassador Uichiro Niwa for making comments that
do not always reflect the government's position
Niwa, who is known for his pro-China
stance, had been recalled to Tokyo earlier that
day at [Foreign Affairs Minister Koichiro]
Genba's instructions in what a senior ministry
official described as a "diplomatic gesture".
Genba told Niwa it was his job to
accurately relay the Japanese government's
position to the Chinese side, sources said ...
Japan's stand is that there is no
territorial dispute with China because the
Senkaku Islands are part of Japanese territory.
Therefore, the government says the question of
purchasing the islets cannot be a diplomatic
Genba on July 15 again reminded
Niwa to toe the Japanese government's line and
not speak out of turn. 
different set of circumstances one might think
that the United States would also pitch in, in its
self-professed role as honest broker and guardian
of the peace of the western Pacific, and
communicate to Japan that the Senkaku/Diaoyu
Islands purchase scheme is embarrassing and
However, that would
shift the focus from the evils of the would-be
hegemons in Beijing to the has-been hegemons of
Currently, the Senkaku/Diaoyu
purchase has been framed as strictly a Japanese
internal matter, the transfer of title from a
private owner to some lucky bureau of, it is
hoped, the national government.
China is being told to butt out; so is, perhaps
much to its relief, the United States.
keeping with the "internal matter" framing, Genba
(whose name is also romanized as Gemba) explicitly
rebutted press reports that the issue had been
discussed between US Secretary of State Hillary
Rodham Clinton and Japan's leaders:
Foreign Minister Koichiro Gemba said
Tuesday [July 10] neither he nor Prime Minister
Yoshihiko Noda spoke with US Secretary of State
Hillary Clinton on the issue of the possible
state purchase of some of the Senkaku Islands
when Clinton visited over the weekend.
Gemba made the remark at a press
conference, contradicting a senior US State
Department official's reported remark that
Clinton, during the visit, sought Tokyo's
explanation about its plan to put some of the
islands under state ownership
Noda's government may be trying to
"nationalize" the crisis in order to avoid
"internationalizing" it, ie turning it into a
football kicked among the US, Japan and China, to
pursuit of its own agenda of confrontation with
the PRC is also part of a disturbing evolution -
or devolution - in the geopolitical order in Asia.