Academic journal article Asian Perspective

Japan-China-US Relations and the Senkaku/Diaoyu Islands Dispute: Perspectives from International Relations Theory

Academic journal article Asian Perspective

Japan-China-US Relations and the Senkaku/Diaoyu Islands Dispute: Perspectives from International Relations Theory

Article excerpt

SAYING THAT PRESENT-DAY JAPAN-CHINA RELATIONS HAVE BECOME SO difficult that all past positive accomplishments that took place between the two countries have been seriously affected has become axiomatic. As a Japanese scholar I am expected to defend and explain Japan's position. But in order to present my analysis as objectively as possible and put emotions aside, I examine the recent situation from the perspective of Western theories of inter- national relations.

I first take up the three major contemporary theories of real- ism, liberalism, and constructivism and see how at first glance they interpret the China-Japan dispute. I then enlarge the scope of analysis horizontally and historically to try to see the overall sit- uation at a deeper level, which includes the US role, but again from the perspective of the three theories. I next consider the roles of domestic political factors. Then I synthesize my analysis and turn to the prisoner 's dilemma to find a possible solution to the present impasse. In my concluding remarks I link the analysis pre- sented here with what we may call Eastern thinking.1

Three Theories of International Relations: An Introductory Analysis

Looking at the current state of Japan-China relations with partic- ular respect to the territorial dispute, it seems that relations are stuck in a hopelessly difficult situation. This applies not only from a realist perspective, which accentuates the role of power, but also from a liberal perspective, where human nature capable of chang- ing circumstances based on values plays a key role. Even from a constructivist perspective, where leaders are capable of and responsible for choices of actions, the two countries seem to be drifting toward a collision course.


Seen from Japan, the declared policy of China to enter the terri- torial waters of the Senkaku/Diaoyu Islands is shocking evidence of China's decision to resort to force to settle international con- flicts. On December 8, 2008, Chinese maritime research ships navigated for nine hours within the territorial waters around the islands. The next day, an official representative of China's coast guard stated at a press conference that China "should accumulate concrete evidence" of implementing "actual control."2 This offi- cial statement made by a responsible official meant that territo- rial claims henceforward would be made not through peaceful negotiations but by virtue of a physical presence. Prime Minister Aso Taro immediately reacted, saying, "This is a clear violation of territorial waters and is highly regrettable" (Kyodo News Service 2008a). Japan naturally felt threatened by China's intention to capitalize on the presence of its ships.

A realist response is straightforward. Where there is a threat, it should be deterred. In response, Japan was bound to strengthen its coast guard as well as to deploy more effective equipment and naval self-defense forces in the threatened area. The Japanese defense budget, which has been in constant decline in recent years-from 4.8297 trillion yen in 2005 to 4.6453 trillion yen in 2012-increased to 4.6804 trillion yen in 2013 (Ministry of Defense of Japan 2013). The 2014 defense budget proposal, as of August 30, 2013, jumped from the previous year by 2.9 percent, to 4.89 trillion yen. Maritime power for the defense of the Ryukyu Islands became one of the priority areas, including the formation of a marine corps unit specially devoted to the East China Sea area. In its 2014 budget proposal, Japan's Maritime Safety Agency proposed a 13 percent increase (196.3 billion yen), a small amount but an astonishing rate of increase in a generally tight budgetary environment (Asahi Shimbun 2013).

For China, the situation can also be seen from the point of view of power politics, and in a way equally as grave as that per- ceived by Japan. There is a deeply rooted conviction in China that its rise has now reached the point where it can use its power to exert its will. …

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