What ‘Diaoyu’ means and five other things you don’t know about the Senkaku island dispute

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.

More US, Japanese access to Philippines’ bases?

This article from the People’s Daily suggests that might be on its way: 


The Philippines is considering giving the United States and Japan greater access to Manila’s military bases, the country’s defense secretary said on Thursday. 


The article quotes an analysts who notes, and I don’t doubt this, that the US is wary of being “kidnapped” by the Philippines on this issue, especially given Manila’s handling of disputes. And it’s not as if US-Philippines relations around the military are all rosy.

Nonetheless, it’s another sign of the times as the ASEAN countries meet.

Japan’s possible involvement shows how remote these concerns about Japan’s imperial past are for South China Sea countries.


Where to now Senkaku-Diaoyu?

I have heard anecdotally that after the leadership change in China, there would be less incentive to keep tensions high around the Senkaku-Diaoyu Island dispute – at least from the Chinese side. That doesn’t exactly mean the tensions will be easing.

This Kyodo News item from a few days ago shows the US and Japan making preparations for “Senkaku contingencies.”

Japan and the United States have started mapping out joint operation plans to prepare for any contingency arising from conflicting claims between Tokyo and Beijing over the Senkaku Islands, sources close to Japan-U.S. ties said Thursday.

Let’s hope, and it’s entirely possible, that the contingencies are for a protocol, or possibility of a de-escalation should a clash occur. Looks like it will be up to the US and Japan on this count, as the Chinese don’t have a great wish for multilaterialism. They said as much in the recently concluded Xi Jinping- Vladimir Putin talks.

As per Global Times 

On the Asia-Pacific situation, the two countries said it is a primary task for the region to build a security and cooperation framework that features openness, transparency, equality and inclusiveness.

They added that it is necessary to encourage relevant countries in the region to properly settle their disputes through bilateral dialogues and negotiations.

That is “bilateral” not “multilateral.” I.e. China-Japan, China-Vietnam. Not China-Japan-US. Or China-Vietnam-ASEAN. etc.

Japan “strongly” protests Chinese ships around Senkakus

The impact of Japan’s new nationalist government led by Shinzo Abe can be seen with Japan summoning the Chinese abassador to “strongly protest”  the proximity of Chinese state ships near the disputed Senkaku-Diaoyu Islands.
This is what was expected from the newly elected government, which has promised to take a tougher line with China. China of course, says it won’t be cowed by the Japanese.