Is­lands Stand­off

China’s con­fronta­tion with Ja­pan over the con­trol of is­lands in the East China Sea will jeop­ar­dize its dream of be­com­ing the world’s lead­ing economic power.

Southasia - - INTERNATIONAL CHINA - By Dr. Moo­nis Ah­mar The writer is Dean, Fac­ulty of Arts, at Karachi Univer­sity.

It is feared that the tug of war between China and Ja­pan over the con­trol of the Diaoyu Is­lands in the East China Sea can es­ca­late into a full-scale war. The con­tro­versy started when Bei­jing claimed its sovereignty over the is­land. Ja­pan, which calls the same is­lands Senkakus, re­sponded by re­ject­ing the Chi­nese claim, mak­ing it clear that it ruled the is­lands in the past. Tai­wan also claims the own­er­ship of the is­lands, which it calls the Diaoyu­tia Is­lands.

What is the na­ture of con­flict between China and Ja­pan? More im­por­tantly, if it is not man­aged, what will be the im­pli­ca­tions of a pos­si­ble Sino-Ja­panese stand­off?

The root cause of the Sino-Ja­panese con­flict on the dis­puted is­lands in the East China Sea is the es­tab­lish­ment of the Air De­fense Iden­ti­fi­ca­tion Zone (AIDZ) by China, which cov­ers an area of more than 600 miles from north to south, above in­ter­na­tional wa­ters. The im­ple­men­ta­tion of AIDZ stip­u­lates that all air­craft en­ter­ing the zone must no­tify the Chi­nese au­thor­i­ties be­fore­hand or face “emer­gency de­fen­sive mea­sures.” China has not clearly stated what such emer­gency de­fen­sive mea­sures would be.

Bei­jing’s de­ci­sion to es­tab­lish AIDZ over the Diaoyu Is­lands has two ma­jor ob­jec­tives. First, to pre­vent the mil­i­tary pres­ence of Ja­pan or any other coun­try on the is­lands; sec­ond, to ex­ploit their nat­u­ral re­sources. Pre­dictably, China’s de­ci­sion to en­force AIDZ was se­verely crit­i­cized by the United States and Ja­pan. U.S. Vice Pres­i­dent Joe Bi­den held a joint press con­fer­ence with Ja­panese Prime Min­is­ter Shinzo Abe to an­nounce that the United States and Ja­pan would work to­gether to pre­vent any at­tempt by China to change the sta­tus quo in the Asia Pacific re­gion. Bi­den also asked Bei­jing to re­vise its de­ci­sion while a White House spokesman termed the Chi­nese an­nounce­ment as “a provoca­tive at­tempt to uni­lat­er­ally change the sta­tus quo that in­creased the risk of in­ad­ver­tent con­fronta­tion.”

There are four ma­jor re­al­i­ties which need to be con­sid­ered while an­a­lyz­ing the Sino-Ja­pan row. First, since the end of the Sec­ond World War, there ex­ists a U.S.-Ja­pan de­fense treaty un­der which Wash­ing­ton is bound to help Tokyo in times of cri­sis. China also knows very well that it has its lim­i­ta­tions as it at­tempts to strengthen its con­trol over the Diaoyu Is­lands. The United States has re­fused to rec­og­nize AIDZ. In or­der to de­ter the Chi­nese, it sent B-52 bombers to the zone with­out in­form­ing China about them. Pre­dictably, China is not in a po­si­tion to con­front the United States for any vi­o­la­tion of AIDZ.

Sec­ond, China’s ter­ri­to­rial am­bi­tions in the South and East China Seas are well known. Al­most all the coun­tries of the re­gion, Viet­nam, Tai­wan, Philip­pines and Ja­pan, are wary of Bei­jing’s in­ten­tions in the Asia Pacific re­gion. But China seems to be firm over the im­ple­men­ta­tion of AIDZ as it claims that the zone will pro­mote peace and co­op­er­a­tion. A Chi­nese For­eign Min­istry spokesman even ar­gued that China is not re­spon­si­ble for the cri­sis and blamed some other coun­tries for “play­ing on the is­sue for their self­ish gains.” The spokesper­son said, “We urge Ja­pan not to look down on the Chi­nese gov­ern­ment’s de­ter­mi­na­tion and re­solve in de­fend­ing China’s ter­ri­to­rial sovereignty.”

China may be able to get away with AIDZ but its at­tempts to con­sol­i­date its in­flu­ence in South and East China Seas will deepen mis­trust and hos­til­ity among re­gional coun­tries. How­ever, the pa­trolling of Chi­nese naval ships around the Diaoyu Is­lands may de­ter Ja­pan from tak­ing any of­fen­sive mea­sure against what it calls “Bei­jing’s ag­gres­sive and mil­i­taris­tic de­signs in East China Sea.”

Third, since the end of the WWII, Ja­pan has tried to project it­self as a peace­ful na­tion having no mil­i­taris­tic

or ag­gres­sive de­signs in the re­gion. Ja­pan also lost the Kurile Is­lands to the Soviet Union which oc­cu­pied them af­ter the Sec­ond World War. But it will be un­re­al­is­tic to ex­pect Ja­pan not to re­act against what it sees as China’s ter­ri­to­rial am­bi­tions over the is­lands which re­mained un­der Ja­pan’s con­trol till 2012 and are be­lieved to be rich in min­eral re­sources.

Dur­ing Bi­den’s visit to Ja­pan this year, Ja­panese Chief Cabi­net Sec­re­tary Yoshi­hide Suga told the me­dia that “China’s dec­la­ra­tion of an air de­fense iden­ti­fi­ca­tion zone is an at­tempt to uni­lat­er­ally change the sta­tus quo which can in­vite un­ex­pected sit­u­a­tions and is an ex­tremely dan­ger­ous act.”

Ja­pan fears that af­ter the Diaoyu Is­lands, China will try to es­tab­lish its in­flu­ence over other is­lands lo­cated nearby, such as the is­lands of Amamioshima, Miyako and Ishi­gaki. The U.S.-Ja­pan de­fense pact re­strains Tokyo from main­tain­ing an of­fen­sive mil­i­tary pos­ture since the Ja­panese se­cu­rity is guar­an­teed by Wash­ing­ton. China, how­ever, re­jects the scope of this pact.

Fi­nally, the ab­sence of a re­gional or­ga­ni­za­tion in East Asia and North East Asia de­prives the coun­tries of the two re­gions of a con­flict man­age­ment and res­o­lu­tion mech­a­nism that comes with the pres­ence of re­gional or­ga­ni­za­tions. For in­stance, the As­so­ci­a­tion for South East Asian Na­tions ( ASEAN), the Euro­pean Union (EU), the African Union ( AU) and the Or­ga­ni­za­tion of Amer­i­can States ( OAS) en­sures a de­gree of re­gional ap­proach to deal with con­flicts. This is not the case in East Asia and North East Asia. The mil­i­tary pres­ence of the United States in Ja­pan and South Korea and its mil­i­tary en­gage­ment with Tai­wan is an­other ma­jor fac­tor which deep­ens the se­cu­rity predica­ment of the two re­gions.

The Sino-Ja­panese con­flict is a ma­jor flash­point in to­day’s global po­lit­i­cal sce­nario. Ja­pan also car­ries a ‘his­tor­i­cal bag­gage’ in Asia be­cause of its past ex­pan­sion­ist, ag­gres­sive and mil­i­taris­tic be­hav­ior. Its im­pe­rial thirst for land and re­sources be­came its of­fi­cial pol­icy and Korea be­came the first vic­tim of Ja­panese ag­gres­sion when it was oc­cu­pied by Ja­pan in 1910. Ja­pan’s mil­i­tary drive in Manchuria in 1931, at­tack on China in 1937 and its oc­cu­pa­tion of huge ter­ri­to­ries in South East Asia dur­ing the Sec­ond World War re­flected its im­pe­rial pol­icy to grab more and more land. The de­feat of Ja­pan in the Sec­ond World War and its oc­cu­pa­tion by the U.S. forces changed the geo-po­lit­i­cal land­scape of Asia. As a de­feated coun­try, Ja­pan was pun­ished heav­ily and had to ac­cept the de­ploy­ment of U.S. forces on its soil.

China, Korea and other coun­tries of South East Asia have not for­got­ten Ja­pan’s atroc­i­ties and cer­tainly will unite if Tokyo tries to pur­sue its ex­pan­sion­ist am­bi­tions. It is rightly said by many an­a­lysts that the past will con­tinue to haunt Ja­pan for many years. Even a slight act on Ja­pan’s part which re­flects its po­lit­i­cal am­bi­tions in the re­gion will be met with fierce re­sis­tance from its neigh­bors. But Ja­pan’s his­tor­i­cal bag­gage does not jus­tify Chi­nese ag­gres­sion and ex­pan­sion­ist de­signs in East and South East Asia.

Pru­dence de­mands that a po­lit­i­cal so­lu­tion is sought of the Diaoyu Is­lands con­tro­versy be­cause de­spite the cre­ation of AIDZ, China will not be able to achieve its en­force­ment, par­tic­u­larly by the United States. Fur­ther­more, China’s con­fronta­tion with Ja­pan and the United States over the is­sue of con­trol­ling is­lands lo­cated in the East China Sea will also jeop­ar­dize its dream of be­com­ing the world’s lead­ing economic power.

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