What ‘Diaoyu’ means and five other things you don’t know about the Senkaku island dispute
by Chris Zappone
1) The Chinese word for the islands means “fishing platform.”
2) Although the media frequently refers to the September 2012 decision by the government of Tokyo to purchase the islands at the escalation of the diplomatic row, an earlier flare-up occurred on September 7, 2010 when a Chinese fishing boat rammed two Japanese coastguard ships. The Japanese arrested the captain and crew triggering a diplomatic spat between China and Japan.
3) Despite being an ally of Japan, the US takes no position on the ultimate ownership of the islands.
4) A Japanese politician claims that in 2012 Japan was close to reaching a resolution over the islands with China. The lead-up to China’s leadership change, however, prevented that. According to DPJ lawmaker Akihisa Nagashima (at the time a special adviser to then PM Yoshihiko Noda on the Senkaku/Diaoyu issues) wrote recently that Japanese officials became “positive about the prospects of being able to elicit a ‘tacit acceptance’ from China…[but] “a group of Chinese leaders who were inclined to accept (Noda’s policy) lost its clout” in the power struggle ahead of the Chinese Communist Party’s National Congress.
5) Taiwan, which calls the islands the Diaoyutai, has an ownership dispute over the islands with China and Japan as well. But Japan and Taiwan have signed an agreement to share fishing rights around the islands.
6) The Senkaku/Diaoyu dispute is likely not about undersea gas and oil. Yes, China and Japan are energy-hungry nations. Both countries have shown a great willingness to engage in resource diplomacy to secure steady supplies of resources around the world. But frankly, they have found easier, more reliable sources of supply than in a highly contested zone with planes and ships from four different countries patrolling. The reality is the Senkaku/Diaoyu Island dispute provides a tangible issue for an intangible struggle between two nations that have a long history of antagonism. After WWII, the power rested with the US-backed Japan. Now the world watches to see if China can successfully change the status quo created by the post-war US-Japan alliance.