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1 Preface: An international workshop on tensions in the East China Sea 4 About the authors 6 Abbreviations 7 A Japanese perspective on the Senkaku/Diaoyu Islands crisis Noboru Yamaguchi 18 Developments post-Japanese nationalisation of the Diaoyu/Senkaku Islands: A perspective from Beijing Jin Canrong and Wang Hao 26 US policy considerations in the Senkaku/Diaoyu Islands crisis Bonnie S. Glaser 37 Implications of Taiwan-Japan landmark fishing agreement Linda Jakobson 50 Concluding thoughts Linda Jakobson Preface: An international workshop on tensions in the East China Sea The announcement in September 2012 by Japan’s government to purchase three of the disputed Senkaku/Diaoyu Islands sparked a downward spiral in relations between Japan and China. According to the Japanese government, the purchase was designed to thwart the plans of ultra-nationalist mayor of Tokyo, Shintaro Ishihara, to buy the islands and ‘develop’ them.
According to the Chinese government, Japan unilaterally changed the status quo, which Beijing deems unacceptable.
In the year since the Japanese Government’s decision, both sides have increased efforts to assert sovereignty over the islands. China has routinely flown aircraft over and sent law enforcement vessels into the territorial waters surrounding the disputed waters, challenging Tokyo’s effective control of the islands. Japan, in turn, has stepped up its coastguard presence near the islands. China has also dispatched fighter jets and unmanned aerial vehicles, or drones, to the skies near the islands, prompting Japan to scramble fighter jets. The risk of miscalculation rises with each patrol.
In June 2013 the East Asia Program at the Lowy Institute convened an international workshop with the aim of gaining a more nuanced understanding of the Senkaku/Diaoyu Islands dispute and the factors driving the actions of key stakeholders. Attended by 25 experts from China, Japan, the United States and Australia, the workshop explored developments in the months following the nationalisation by Japan’s central government of the islands and prospects for moving past the current impasse. The following set of papers, written in advance of the workshop, provide assessments of the tensions viewed from Beijing, Tokyo, Washington DC and Taipei. They also try to identify policy options available to respective governments.
In the first paper, Lt General Noboru Yamaguchi (retired) identifies the domestic political factors behind the Noda Government’s decision to nationalise the islands. Following criticism of the governing Democratic Party of Japan’s handling of the detention of a Chinese fishing captain in 2010, Lt Gen Yamaguchi argues that the purchase was largely driven by a number of factors including an unsettled relationship with the landowner, upcoming elections and a desire to reassert Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda’s national security credentials. Yamaguchi also points that out it is not just the more frequent presence of maritime surveillance ships in the waters near the islands that are a cause for concern. Because China’s navy is increasing in size and also becoming more active, the navies of Japan, China and the United States come into contact more frequently in international waters in the East China Sea. This heightens the chance for miscalculation, according to Yamaguchi.
Professor Jin Canrong of China’s Renmin University and his co-author Wang Hao consider the factors behind the Chinese government’s more assertive approach to the dispute and Chinese perceptions of Japan’s motivations. According to Jin, the Japanese central government’s purchase of the islands reflects a hardening of Tokyo’s position since the detainment of a Chinese fishing captain in 2010. Tokyo’s tougher stance combined with demands of special interest groups compelled China to react to Japan’s attempts to what Beijing perceives as a unilateral change of the status quo.
Ms Bonnie Glaser, Senior Adviser for Asia at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, provides an assessment of the United States’ diplomatic balancing of Japan and China over the islands. The United States has sought to avoid encouraging either side to behave assertively or take risks. She recommends that the United States continue its ‘quiet diplomacy’ unless Japan agrees to recognise the existence of a dispute over the islands’ sovereignty, adding that it is after all the responsibility of China and Japan to work out the modalities to any solution.
In the fourth paper, Ms Linda Jakobson, the Lowy Institute’s East Asia Program Director, considers the position of Taiwan, the third and oft-ignored claimant to the islands. In April 2013 Taipei reached agreement with Tokyo to permit Taiwanese fishing vessels access to fishing areas near the Senkaku/Diaoyu Islands and inside Japan’s exclusive economic zone, while putting questions of sovereignty to one side. Ms Jakobson explores the drivers behind this agreement in Taiwan and Japan, and how it has impacted cross-Strait relations. The agreement to put aside questions of sovereignty and focus on the shared exploitation of resources could, potentially, provide a useful template for soothing China-Japan tensions, although in the current tense environment substantial challenges remain.
The report concludes with a brief assessment by Linda Jakobson of the state of tensions in the East China Sea as final revisions were included (December 2013).1
1 The report was edited by members of the East Asia Program: Linda Jakobson, Masato Kawaguchi, Eva O'Dea, Dirk van der Kley, Tracy Tang, and Aimee Yi.
About the Authors
Ms Bonnie GLASER is a senior adviser for Asia in the Freeman Chair in China Studies, where she works on issues related to Chinese foreign and security policy. She is concomitantly a senior associate with CSIS Pacific Forum and a consultant for the US government on East Asia. From 2003 to mid-2008, Ms Glaser was a senior associate in the CSIS International Security Program. Ms Glaser is a board member of the US Committee of the Council for Security Cooperation in the Asia Pacific, a member of the Council on Foreign Relations, and a member of the Institute of International Strategic Studies. Ms Glaser received her BA in political science from Boston University and her MA with concentrations in international economics and Chinese studies from the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies.
Ms Linda JAKOBSON is East Asia Program Director at the Lowy Institute for International Policy. Before moving to Sydney in 2011 she lived and worked in China for 20 years and published six books on China and East Asia. The Finnish edition of A Million Truths: A Decade in China (New York: M. Evans 1998) won the 1998 Finnish Government Publication Award. A Mandarin speaker, she has published extensively on China’s foreign policy, the Taiwan Strait, and China’s science & technology polices. She is the author of New Foreign Policy Actors in China (SIPRI 2010, with Dean Knox); China’s Arctic Aspirations (SIPRI 2012, with Jingchao Peng) and China’s Foreign Policy Dilemma (Lowy Institute, 2013).
From 2009-2011 Jakobson served as Director of the China and Global Security Programme at the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI).
Professor JIN Canrong is Associate Dean and Professor in the School of International Studies at Renmin University in Beijing. Before joining Renmin University, he worked at the Institute of American Studies at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences (CASS) from 1987 to 2002. His studies focus on American politics (in particular the US Congress), American foreign policy, Sino-US relations and China’s foreign policy. He has published extensively in academic journals and mainstream media and has also written seven books and translated five books, including The Liberal Tradition in America (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 1991) by Louis Hart; Between Hope and History (Random House, 1996) by former President Bill Clinton and Diplomacy (Simon & Schuster, 2011) by Henry Kissinger. Prof Jin holds a BA in political science from Fudan University, an MA from the Graduate School of the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, and a PhD from the School of International Studies at Peking University.
Lieutenant General Noboru YAMAGUCHI, JGSDF (Ret.) is a Professor and Director for International Programs at the National Defense Academy (NDA) of Japan. He graduated from the NDA majoring in applied physics in 1974 and trained as an army aviator, mainly flying helicopters. He received his MA from the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy, Tufts University, in 1988 and was a National Security Fellow at the John M. Olin Institute for Strategic Studies, Harvard University 1991-1992. Lt Gen Yamaguchi’s major assignments include Senior Defense Attaché at the Japanese Embassy in the United States (1999-2001), Vice President of the National Institute for Defense Studies (2005-2006) and Commanding General of the GSDF Research and Development Command (2006-2008).
Mr WANG Hao is a graduate student at the School of International Relations, Renmin University of China.
Abbreviations ADIZ Air Defence Identification Zone APEC Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation DPJ Democratic Party of Japan DPP Democratic Progressive Party EEZ Exclusive Economic Zone GDP Gross Domestic Product GOJ Government of Japan ICJ International Court of Justice JCG Japanese Coast Guard JASDF Japan Air Self-Defence Force JMSDF Japan Maritime Self-Defence Force JSDF Japan Self-Defence Force KMT Kuomintang Party LDP Liberal Democratic Party MOD Ministry of Defence MP Member of Parliament MST (US-Japan) Mutual Security Treaty PLA People’s Liberation Army PLAAF People’s Liberation Army Air Force PLAN People’s Liberation Army Navy PRC People’s Republic of China SOA State Oceanic Administration UNCLOS United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea
Tensions between China and Japan have increased over the disputed Senkaku or Diaoyu Islands since fall 2012 when the Government of Japan (GOJ) decided to purchase the three major islands. Although Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda’s decision was designed to avoid further tension over the islands by preventing the then Governor of Tokyo from purchasing them and thus provoking China, China’s reaction was far more severe than expected. Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao warned Japan saying that ‘the government and the people of China would never yield even a half step’ just a day before the GOJ’s announcement on 11 September 2012. The two countries are now facing a serious crisis.
The GOJ’s purchase should be understood in light of domestic political factors at the time.
The DPJ’s hangover from the September 2010 Senkaku incident
On September 7, 2010, two years before Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda’s decision to purchase the islands, a Chinese fishing trawler rammed into a Japanese Coast Guard’s (JCG) patrol ship. The Chinese skipper was arrested and held for seventeen days before being released. The then ruling Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ) led by Prime Minister Naoto Kan was severely criticised by the Japanese public for conceding too much to China in its handling of the incident.1 This domestic pressure put Prime Minister Kan’s DPJ successor, Yoshihiko Noda, in a situation where he could not afford to look too weak on the issue. At the same time, both the Chinese government and the Chinese * The Lowy Institute is grateful for support from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Japan to cover Lieutenant General Yamaguchi’s travel to the June 2013 workshop.
In particular, the decision to release the Chinese skipper was widely considered a political one made under pressure from China, despite claims from cabinet that the prosecution made the decision based entirely on legal grounds. Opposition leaders such as the then former LDP Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and Yoshimi Watanabe, the leader of Your Party criticised this decision as being a result of DPJ’s “weak-kneed diplomacy.” See: 容認できない！民主議員も釈放撤回求め抗議文 [“Unacceptable!
Members of DPJ Also Release Protest Note Demanding Revocation of Parole,”], Yomiuri Online, 24 September 2010, http://web.archive.org/web/20100925204048/http://www.yomiuri.co.jp/politics/news/20100924OYT1T00944.htm.
public heavily criticised the GOJ for being too assertive.
There was intense pressure on Prime Minister Kan and his Cabinet Secretary General Yoshito Sengoku from the Japanese public and the conservative opposition, the Liberal Democratic Party (LDP). Kan and Sengoku were accused of having inappropriately exercised their political influence on the decision of the prosecution to suspend the indictment and release the Chinese skipper.2 Criticism of the DPJ’s management of national security issues and, in particular, accusations of mismanagement of the JapanUS alliance had been made since the party came to power in September 2009 under Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama. The Kan administration’s handling of the Chinese trawler/JCG patrol ship incident therefore reinforced the public’s discontent with the DJP’s apparent weakness on national security. This meant that when Yoshihiko Noda succeeded Naoto Kan as Prime Minister and leader of the DPJ in September 2011 he had no choice other than to take a tougher stance on national security policy than his predecessors and be as hardline as the LDP. Prime Minister Noda declared that his administration ‘would protect sovereignty of Japan and defend its territories with an unwavering resolve.’3
The GOJ’s position: Remaining the same while being sharpened