Tensions in the East China Sea: Here to Stay
Tensions over the Diaoyu/Senkaku Islands are still simmering - with fallout mounting daily. Despite talks between high-ranking diplomats from both sides—many obstacles remain that prevent the two from reaching an agreement on the issue. For China, a number of factors converge to make it highly unlikely that it will back down from its tough posture without considerable concessions from Tokyo.
The first is many Chinese (both official and unofficial) lack of knowledge about Japan’s political system. The prevailing view in China is that the Noda government colluded with the nationalistic Tokyo Governor Ishihara in plotting the “nationalization” of the islands. Many Chinese commentators conclude the “nationalization” was part of a calculated strategy. Such an allegation, however, ignores the reality of Japanese politics.
As MIT Professor Richard J. Samuels points out: “The governor and the prime minister come from very different corners of the Japanese political universe—the former [Governor Ishihara] being far more to the nationalist right, and the latter (even though the son of a soldier) being the leader of a nominally center-left party. Moreover, Governor Ishihara was eager to see his son, Nobuteru, become head of the Liberal Democratic Party (LDP), the leading opposition party.”
In other words, the allegations emanating from China greatly overestimates the Japanese government’s ability to act as a unitary actor. Again, Samuels notes that “judging from the recent inability of the Japanese government to devise and deploy a coherent policy toward nuclear energy, crediting the government with having a ‘strategy’ may be far too generous. It has been a long time since the Japanese government has been able to act strategically.”
The Chinese side is also mistaken in its time-honored belief that right-wing forces are on the rise in Japan. In a September speech, for instance, China’s Assistant Foreign Minister Le Yucheng cited a series of Japanese provocations regarding the Senkaku/Diaoyu Islands that occurred prior to the actual “purchase,” as well as the most recent denials by Japanese politicians of Tokyo’s atrocities during World War II. From these examples, Le concluded that right-wing forces are “gaining momentum” in Japan and warned that these “highly dangerous developments…should put us on the alert.”