If this account is true and Chinese ships drove Japanese ships away, it would mark a troubling development. It would be troubling because the ships’ visits would be less symbolic and more tactical. My sense is that this is the heroic Chinese telling of the event. The Japanese for their part have pledged to expel any Chinese who land on the island – and probably any Japanese who do too. The difference between the Chinese and Japanese in this case is that the Japanese have a free hand to enforce the no landing order against their own citizens as a matter of policy. Nationalists in Japan may grumble. But the risk of domestic blow back would be lower for the Japanese. The Chinese authorities are constrained not to do anything around the islands that can be construed as “weak” by its own people. So if Chinese nationalists somehow planted a flag there, the Chinese would reluctant to stop them. I don’t think this will happen. But it shows how combustible the environment is. The Chinese, because of their internal dynamics, are constrained to err on the side of strength in these matters.
It’s always hard to tell if tensions are at a new level, or they are at the same plateau. However, today, we have a new mix of factors: the Japanese nationalist flotilla, eight Chinese government ships, the Japanese war shrine visit.
From the BBC:
Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, pressed in parliament to say how Japan would react to a Chinese attempt to land on the tiny islands, said it would be “natural to force them to leave”.
“Since it has become the Abe government, we have made sure that if there is an instance where there is an intrusion into our territory or it seems that there could be landing on the islands then we will deal will it strongly,” he said.
The Chinese send the patrols.
And this time, for added emotion, there is the simmering anger from China and South Korea for the visit by “at least 168 lawmakers” to the Yasukuni Shrine in Tokyo, honoring “14 leaders convicted as war criminals.”
Japanese nationalists also sent their flotilla to the disputed islands.
Last year members of the same group, “Ganbare Nippon” (Stand Firm! Japan), landed on one of the rocky islets and triggered anti-Japanese protests in China, where lingering resentment over Japan’s wartime aggression has been rekindled in recent days.
Meanwhile, down in Brunei, the Association of Southeast Asian Nations prepares to meet to discuss, or not, the South China Sea disputes.
So many tensions, so little time.
While North Korea absorbs the world’s attention (or at least the share of it apportioned to Asia), Japan and Taiwan have worked out a little deal that will give Taiwanese fishing boats access to the waters around the Senkaku/Diaoyu Islands. In exchange, the Taiwanese will expel Mainland Chinese fishing boats.
As per The Japan Daily Express…
Maritime experts believe that the Tokyo government was eager to sign a deal with Taiwan, which has only ever shown concern about the value of the waters to its fishing industry, in order to prevent it from partnering with mainland China to defend its claims. The agreement states that Taiwanese fishermen will be able to operate in waters within 19 kilometers (12 miles) of the disputed islands, which is part of Japan’s exclusive economic zone. Taiwan’s [minister Wang Jin-wang] says that the law states all other vessels entering the waters will be expelled.
Needless to say, the Chinese are not pleased. From our friends at The Global Times.
Although there has been no open cooperation between the mainland and Taiwan on the Diaoyu Islands issue, tacit understandings do exist. The strong stance from the mainland side in safeguarding the sovereignty of the islands has undoubtedly strengthened Taiwan’s status in its negotiations with Japan.
Taiwan alone cannot compete with Japan. As Taiwan seeks to maximize its interests, it won’t side with the mainland.
The Taiwanese authorities clearly know that the more tacit understandings they share with the mainland, the more respect Japan will pay to Taiwan’s interests. Totally splitting up with the mainland over the Diaoyu Islands issue would be a severe blow to Taiwan’s capacity to bargain with Japan.
So there you are. The latest wrinkle in the Senkaku-Diaoyu drama. Taiwan makes common cause with the Japanese on fishing rights, letting the Japanese come between Taiwan and mainland China.