Academic journal article Naval War College Review

The Senkaku/diaoyu Island Controversy

Academic journal article Naval War College Review

The Senkaku/diaoyu Island Controversy

Article excerpt

A Crisis Postponed

(ProQuest: ... denotes non-US-ASCII text omitted.)

On 11 September 2012, the Japanese government signed a contract worth 2.05 billion yen ($26.1 million) with Kunioki Kurihara, a private businessman, to purchase three of the five main islands that constitute the Senkaku/ Diaoyu Island group, an action that effectively nationalized the islands.1 Ironically, the government purchase was designed to head offmore ambitious moves by Tokyo's governor (...), Shintaro Ishihara, to purchase the islands with cash collected in a national fund-raising campaign. Ishihara, known for his nationalistic views, had told an American audience in April 2012 that the "Senkaku Islets will be purchased by the Tokyo Metropolitan Government . . . [and] we will do whatever it takes to protect our own land."2 Not surprisingly, the Chinese government viewed Japan's island-purchasing activities, whatever their motivations or sources, as severe provocations that required a firm and immediate response.

In subsequent weeks, anti-Japan protests erupted throughout China, causing a major strain in the two countries' relationship. During one two-week period in September, thousands of Chinese were engaged in marches and demonstrations in over eighty-five cities. Of greatest concern to both the Japanese and Chinese governments during the outburst was violence committed against Japanese persons and property. Japan's prime minister, Yoshihiko Noda, told news reporters that the controversy and associated protests were "impacting the safety of our citizens and causing damage to the property of Japanese businesses."3

The demonstrations and associated violence also had major economic consequences. Japanese companies operating in China reported significant losses due to the unrest. Japan Airlines and All Nippon Airways, the country's two largest carriers, reported that over fifty-five thousand seat reservations had been canceled during the three months through November.4 Similarly, Japanese automobile manufacturers saw their sales in China plummet by roughly 40 percent.5 By early October 2012 the economic impact of the protests had become so widespread that the chief of the International Monetary Fund, Christine Lagarde, was warning that they had the potential to negatively influence the global economy. She described China and Japan as "key economic drivers" that needed to be "fully engaged," in light of the precarious state of the international economy.6

The 2012 crisis came just two years after a similar one that flared up following the collision of a Chinese fishing boat with two Japan coast guard vessels. In that episode, relations between the two countries hit a new low following Japan's decision to arrest and detain the Chinese boat's captain. When China demanded compensation over the episode and an apology from Japan, Prime Minister Naoto Kan reacted defiantly. "Senkaku is an integral part of Japanese territory," he told reporters. "I have no intention of accepting [the demand] at all."7 China canceled a number of visits that had been planned by Japanese groups (including a major planned visit by Japanese students to the World Expo, being held in Shanghai that year). Overall, at least twenty cultural, political, or other exchange programs were affected by the dispute.8 China made its anger known also by banning rare-earth mineral exports to Japan, materials that were key to several Japanese industries (including hybrid-automobile manufacturers), although Chinese leaders later claimed that these measures were taken to "protect the environment."9

In fact, the Senkaku/Diaoyu Island issue has been a persistent and caustic irritant in relations between Japan and the People's Republic of China, particularly since the early 1970s, when "administrative rights" over the islands were transferred from the United States to Japan (as part of the larger "reversion" treaty of 1971 for the return of Okinawa and the Ryukyu Islands). …

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