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    Greater China
     Sep 5, 2012

US eyes spoiler role in Japan-China dispute
By Jian Junbo

SHANGHAI - The Tokyo metropolitan government's decision to dispatch a team of 25 surveyors to the disputed Diaoyu islands (known in Japan as the Senkakus) on Sunday has further complicated a territorial dispute which is now stretching into its fourth month.

The team from Tokyo carried out their research activities from a boat as the central government had denied their request to land

on the islands. However, the mission was seen in China as a new provocation.

Tensions over the islands were first rekindled by the Governor of Tokyo, Shintaro Ishihara, during a visit to Washington in April, when he offered to buy the islands from private owners.

At the time, because Ishihara's statement was not initiated or authorized by the central government, it initially caused some confusion in Tokyo. Some top officials were shocked while others supported the idea.

While Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda said in April that his administration would take appropriate measures on the issue without talking about "nationalization", in July he changed his tune, announcing that the central government was indeed considering nationalizing the disputed islands.

It was no surprise to hear such a person as Ishihara, well known for his extreme right-wing views, nationalistic position and anti-China attitude, talk about such a purchase. It wasn't to be expected that remarks by a single official could lead Tokyo to create a diplomatic crisis between two East Asian giants.

The dispute over the Diaoyu Islands between China and Japan has resulted from complex maneuvers in international relations. The United States is deeply involved in, if not the original source, of the dispute.

There is little dispute that the Diaoyu Islands were Chinese territory until 1895. Defeated in the first Chinese-Japanese War in 1894, China's Qing Dynasty had to sign the Treaty of Shimonoseki and cede Taiwan and its subordinated islands to Japan in 1895. China and Japan today still hold different views on whether Diaoyu Islands were included in the treaty. Nevertheless, even if the Diaoyu Islands were ceded to Japan under the Treaty of Shimonoseki, they should have still been returned it to China after the end of World War II, according to the Cairo Declaration and Potsdam Proclamation signed by US, Britain and China in 1943 and 1945 respectively.

However, Japan at that time claimed the Diaoyu Islands were under jurisdiction of its Okinawa before the end of the Pacific War, so it didn't transfer the Diaoyu islands to China but to the US since the US was given the trusteeship over Okinawa by the United Nations's San Francisco Peace Treaty.

So the Diaoyu Islands were governed by the US after the end of World War II until early 1970s. Nonetheless, it's should be noted that both Beijing and Taipei do not recognize the legality of San Francisco Peace Treaty since neither had sent any representative to attend this conference nor signed the treaty.

In 1971, the US decided to transfer the Okinawa and Ryukyu Islands back to Japan according to the San Francisco Peace Treaty, regardless of China's protests. Intentionally or mistakenly, the US also decided to transfer the administration of the Diaoyu Islands to Japan, which prompted spontaneous protests by Chinese in various places. In 1972, Japan resumed its control ling power over Diaoyu Islands. [1]

In the face of Chinese protests, Washington later said it had only transferred the administrative power of the Diaoyu Islands to Japan, and it took no side in the sovereignty dispute.

Today, the US reiterates this position, but insists on calling the islands the Senkakus and proclaiming that the US-Japan Security Treaty applies to the Diaoyu Islands. It seems the US is glad to see this sovereignty dispute escalate, which is in its best interest. Washington is also happy to see China runs into conflicts with neighboring countries on South China Sea. Particularly right now, there are talks about the possibility of China replacing US as the world's No 1 economic power in the next couple of decades. Surely territorial disputes would divert China's concentration and hopefully slow down on its development. Moreover tensions in the region serves a further "justification" for US's "return to Asia".

On September 3, one day before US State Secretary Hillary Clinton's visit to Beijing, China's state-run Xinhua News Agency dispatched an editorial saying the US's position on the disputed Diaoyu Islands "was very dangerous" and "not in favor of security and stability in the Asia-Pacific region." The editorial says that although the US proclaims it does not take side on the (Diaoyu Islands) dispute, it adopts the Japanese name and claims the US-Japan Security applies to the issue. "In international relations, such a position bears the serious meaning of recognition (of the disputed islands as Japanese territory)."

Therefore, it says, there are reasons for China to worry about America's forceful intervention in the Diaoyu Islands issue, and be concerned that US's backing of Japan will strengthen the hardline stance of the Japanese government and encourage Japanese right-wing's anti-China arrogance. This will jeopardize the security and stability in the whole Asia-Pacific region.

On the other hand, an escalation of tensions over the Diaoyu islands does no good to either China or Japan. As the second and third largest economies in the world, these two countries are also deeply interdependent economically, not to mention their cultural linkages. For instance, China is the biggest economic partner of Japan, and Japan is the biggest trade partner of China as an individual state. If the current tensions escalate into a Cold War-like crisis or even armed conflict, the two countries could possibly suffer setbacks in economic development. This would also cause and instability in this region. Mutual distrust in this region would jeopardize efforts to foster East Asia's integration.

In the 1980s and 1990s, there were no provocative activities over the Diaoyu Islands and no serious tensions in this region. A peaceful environment ensured smooth economic development in this region.

To ease the current tension, it is necessary for Beijing and Tokyo to make efforts to cool down growing nationalistic sentiments in their own countries, which in fact have "hijacked" the national interest.

Although nationalism in East Asia is rising for many reasons, such as lasting economic recession in Japan and unequal distribution of wealth in China, both Japanese and Chinese leaders should cautiously control the rise of nationalism in their countries, and be aware that stability, peace and development in the region are far more important than any nationalistic provocative activity. Such efforts must be made mutually, because one side's goodwill and concession would be useful only when they are positively responded by the other side.

In consideration of this, the best approach to deal with the dispute over the Diaoyu Islands is still the one both sides had agreed before - to shelve the dispute for joint development, which was proposed by Chinese leader Deng Xiaoping in 1979 and seconded by then Japanese leaders.

Given the current escalating tensions, join development seems to remain a remote possibility, even if both sides would agree to shelve sovereignty dispute. But at least, both sides could refrain from taking further provocative moves, such as attempting to land on the islands and change their status quo.

In view of this point, it is puzzling to see Yoshihiko Noda government to ban Japanese citizens from landing on the Diaoyu Islands on the one hand, but to talk about nationalizing these disputed islands - on the other hand.

For the sake of regional stability, peace and development and for the sake of better China-Japan relations, it's better to leave this sovereign dispute to be resolved through slow regional integration or by future generations' wisdom, rather than in today's environment of nationalism, unilateralism and international interference.

1. Details about the Diaoyu (Senkaku) Islands dispute and relevant historical documents such as the Cairo Declaration, Potsdam Proclamation and San Francisco Peace Treaty, can be found, on Wikipedia.

Dr Jian Junbo is an assistant professor of the Institute of International Studies at Fudan University, Shanghai, China

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