Academic journal article Asian Perspective

The Maritime Dispute in Sino-Japanese Relations: Domestic Dimensions

Academic journal article Asian Perspective

The Maritime Dispute in Sino-Japanese Relations: Domestic Dimensions

Article excerpt

THE SO-CALLED MARITIME DISPUTE BETWEEN CHINA AND JAPAN IN THE East China Sea can be studied from numerous perspectives. The- oretically, one can look at it from a purely realist perspective, focusing on a clash of national interests or competing claims of sovereignty. Or one can adopt a constructivist approach, attempting to ascertain the identities and historical memories of the relevant actors. Or one can regard the dispute as an issue of interdependence with its competitive and cooperative characteristics. Empirically, one can also take different avenues of research-historical, legal, and policy studies, to name a few. In this article, however, I want to shed light on some domestic dimensions of the maritime dispute between China and Japan, in particular those on the Japanese side.

Whereas political commentators tend to look at the dispute at the national level, many domestic issues and factors not only have had an impact on the dispute but also have been affected by it. This structure is likely to remain in the foreseeable future, and therefore it is worthy of our attention. First is the issue of agency. Many actors must be taken into consideration-not only the Chi- nese and Japanese governments, but also the news media, schol- ars, activists, oil and energy businesses, local politicians, and (in the case of Japan) opposition parties. All have views and concerns about the issue. What are they saying or not saying about the dis- pute? Since these other actors potentially play a significant role in shaping the milieu of foreign policy decisions and may influence their government's position (if not its policies), they cannot be ignored. Also important to note is that these other actors are being affected by the dispute indirectly. The issue of agency is not sim- ply who is involved but also which actors are influencing other actors directly or indirectly or prompting other actors to take cer- tain actions.

Second, consequently, the dispute is multidimensional and extremely complex. In order to grasp the bigger picture of the dis- pute, we need to look at all its various and intertwined aspects. The dispute is not only about territorial sovereignty over the Senkaku/Diaoyu Islands. It is also about the development of oil and gas fields, energy security, and China's growing presence in the East China Sea.

Third, depending on the domestic political situations in the two countries, whether constantly changing or completely immo- bile, we may need to set longer time frames for any hopes of get- ting out of the diplomatic and political impasse in which the two sides currently find themselves. Both countries need to find exit strategies and at least mitigate the influence of this seemingly intractable dispute. One may limit the scope of study to the ongo- ing situation and the near future. However, what is obvious to all concerned, whether policymakers, scholars, or political commen- tators, is that no solution to the dispute is conceivable overnight. Therefore, some longer-term approaches to the issue are worth considering. In the end, what do these countries want out of this issue? What situation would they like to see in the long run? Although the empirical scope of this article is limited to the Japanese side, I consider the maritime dispute more broadly. I've structured the article to reflect the arguments above: the actors and their perspectives, the multidimensional character of the dis- pute, longer-term approaches to the islands/East China Sea issue, and my concluding assessment.

The Actors and Their Perspectives

The issue of agency is not as simple as it seems, in particular in a pluralistic society. In the Japanese context, who are the relevant actors? Who are other actors apart from the Japanese government? Who might play a significant role in shaping the milieu of foreign policy decisionmaking, and in the end what influences or shapes the government's position? Also important is who is influenced directly or indirectly by the maritime dispute. …

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