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    Japan
     Aug 7, 2012


China, Japan stretch peace pacts
By Kosuke Takahashi

TOKYO - Asia's two giants, China and Japan, are playing a dangerous game, each indicating they are prepared to use force in defense of islands they both claim as their own.

With a side glance at China expanding its effective control of the disputed Paracel and Spratly islands in the South China Sea, Japan has been taking a stronger rhetorical stand against Beijing to protect its own sovereignty.

Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda on July 26 said in the Diet (parliament) that if necessary the Self-Defense Forces (SDF) can be mobilized to defend the contested Senkaku/Diaoyu Islands in the East China Sea, which are controlled by Japan but

 

claimed by China and Taiwan.

The following day, Defense Minister Satoshi Morimoto also said that "action by the SDF is secured by law in cases where the Japan Coast Guard or police cannot respond" and that sending the SDF to the uninhabited isles would be "a reasonable measure" under the country's legal framework.

Moreover, Japan's 2012 Defence White Paper, published by the Japanese Ministry of Defense on July 31, raised strong concerns over China's military build-up, especially its naval expansion. It pointed out for the first time that "Chinese government ships have also been observed, which were engaged in monitoring activities for protection of its maritime rights and interests. Moreover, advancements to the Pacific Ocean by Chinese naval surface vessels are being routinely conducted."

China didn't remain silent. On the same day, Senior Colonel Geng Yansheng, a Chinese defense ministry spokesman, quickly gave a rebuttal by saying that "the Japanese authorities have recently made a series of irresponsible remarks regarding the Diaoyu islands ... Safeguarding the nation's sovereignty and [Chinese] maritime interests is the joint responsibility of all state organs including the military. We will work closely with the other organs and conscientiously fulfill our duty."

This is a very big - and dangerous - departure from the previous common principle that both governments have shared, which is that the two nations should refrain from the threat or use of force against territorial integrity.

For example, specifically, Article 6 of the Japan-China Joint Communique of 1972, signed by then prime ministers Kakuei Tanaka and Zhou Enlai, said as follows.
The Government of Japan and the Government of the People's Republic of China agree to establish relations of perpetual peace and friendship between the two countries on the basis of the principles of mutual respect for sovereignty and territorial integrity, mutual non-aggression, non-interference in each other's internal affairs, equality and mutual benefit and peaceful co-existence.

The two Governments confirm that, in conformity with the foregoing principles and the principles of the Charter of the United Nations, Japan and China shall in their mutual relations settle all disputes by peaceful means and shall refrain from the use or threat of force.
In addition, Article 1 of the Japan-China Treaty of Peace and Friendship of 1978 also confirmed non-use of their militaries.
The Contracting Parties shall develop relations of perpetual peace and friendship between the two countries on the basis of the principles of mutual respect for sovereignty and territorial integrity, mutual non-aggression, non-interference in each other's internal affairs, equality and mutual benefit and peaceful co-existence.

The Contracting Parties confirm that, in conformity with the foregoing principles and the principles of the Charter of the United Nations, they shall in their mutual relations settle all disputes by peaceful means and shall refrain from the use or threat of force.
While the rhetoric on both sides seems a case of bluffing, implying that force could be used appears to breach previous pacts.

There is considerable argument over who is responsible for the current state of relations between Japan and China.

While China has been accused of renewed assertiveness over its territorial claims in recent years, it was Japan that re-ignited a long-simmering territorial dispute over the Senkaku/Diaoyu islands in April.

Tokyo Governor Shintaro Ishihara said the metropolitan government would buy three of the Senkaku Islands' five main islands from a private landowner. Driven by Ishihara's populist campaign, Noda announced a government plan to nationalize the three islands.

Observers say Noda has used the island purchase plan to help buoy approval ratings, which have plunged to a low of 22% since he took power last September. The opposition Liberal Democratic Party is threatening to call a no-confidence vote on Noda, with political fortunes suffering over a split within his ruling Democratic Party of Japan related to his plan to double the sales tax to 10% by 2015.

China's Foreign Ministry on July 7 called Japan's plan to nationalize the islands "unlawful and invalid", saying "the Chinese government will continue to take necessary measures to firmly protect its sovereignty over the islands."

This was not a bluff. Beijing moved into action, sending three government fishing patrol ships to Japanese-claimed waters off the Senkaku Islands, prompting Japanese Foreign Minister Koichiro Gemba to lodge a "strong" protest with his Chinese counterpart, Yang Jiechi.

For Tokyo, the responsibility for the current tensions lies with Beijing. Japanese vividly remember China's tactics in the wake of similar territorial disputes, including the temporary suspension of exports of rare earths to Japan following a spat over the Senkaku Islands in the fall of 2010.

China's approach to territorial disputes in the South China Sea, particularly with Vietnam and the Philippines, has also alarmed Japan.

China's Central Military Commission in late July approved the deployment of a division-level military garrison to "Sansha City" on Woody Island - one of the Chinese-controlled Paracel Islands - in the north of the contested maritime region. The jurisdiction of "Sansha", officially incorporated last month, covers the entirety of China's claims in the South China Sea.

State-run newspaper Xinhua reported on July 31 that the Sansha garrison is responsible for "defense mobilization, militia reserves, the relationship between the garrison and local government as well as the city guard, support for the city"s disaster rescue and relief work, and direct militia and reserve troops in the city of Sansha".


The stronger force

A Chinese military official recently told English-language state-run newspaper the Global Times that the Japan Maritime Self-Defense Force (JMSDF) is stronger than the People's Liberation Army Navy. He also accused Japan of stirring up the China threat while modernizing its army under the patronage of the United States.

The JMSDF is largely viewed as the second-strongest destroyer navy in the world, surpassed only by the US, as it boasts six Aegis-quipped destroyers and two state-of-the-art helicopter carriers.

Quality is more important than quantity in today's military world. Lacking high-tech warships with the so-called Command, Control, Communications, Computers and Integration (C4I) System, China would struggle to win a naval battle against Japan's forces. This means China is more likely to be engaged in territorial disputes in the South China Sea than the East China Sea in coming years.

Ma"s proposal
Seemingly concerned as Japan and China headed for an all-out confrontation, Taiwanese President Ma Ying-jeou on August 5 proposed a peace initiative to address the territorial disputes over the Senkaku Islands, know in Taiwan as the Tiaoyutai Islands.

"We proposed the East China Sea Peace Initiative to urge all sides to seriously face the possible impact of this territorial dispute on the peace and security of the East China Sea," Ma said.

Ma called on all parties to refrain from taking antagonistic actions, to shelve their differences, to not abandon dialogue, to observe international law and to resolve the dispute via peaceful means.

Tokyo and Beijing in May started a first session of talks on maritime affairs to manage conflicts and properly handle relevant issues, but the initiative is still in its infancy. There remains much room for improvement in accordance with Ma"s proposal.

As the territorial disputes fuel nationalism and a "victim mentality" on both sides, politicians and military officers are exploiting the issue to boost their popularity and power bases. Japan and China need to take swift steps to break the spiral of mistrust. Otherwise, the situation could deteriorate further, delivering a blow to Asia's chances of being the epicenter of global growth in the 21st century.

Kosuke Takahashi is a Tokyo-based Japanese journalist. Besides Asia Times Online, he also writes for IHS Jane's Defence Weekly as Tokyo correspondent. His twitter is @TakahashiKosuke

(Copyright 2012 Asia Times Online (Holdings) Ltd. All rights reserved. Please contact us about sales, syndication and republishing.)





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