Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Understanding the Conflict: China and Japan Island Dispute

The relations between China and Japan have reached "breaking point" after a territorial row over a group of islands, known as the Senkaku islands in Japan and the Diaoyu islands in China. What are the facts behind this event? Why are these tiny islands so important for both countries? Is there just a historical reason behind it? 

The Senkaku Islands also known as the Diaoyu Islands are a group of uninhabited islands controlled by Japan in the East China Sea. They are located roughly due east of Mainland China, northeast of Taiwan, west of Okinawa Island, and north of the southwestern end of the Ryukyu Islands. 

The Senkaku Islands also known as the Diaoyu Islands

So why the relations so tense? The islands are important for both countries, because they are close to strategically important shipping lanes, offer rich fishing grounds and are thought to contain oil deposits. If you want to have a powerful state, you should reach cheap energy resources, make strong economy and spread the sphere of influence. This influence can be coercive, attractive, or competitive. 

American author Charles W. Freeman, Jr. described power as the following:

"Power is the capacity to direct the decisions and actions of others. Power derives from strength and will. Strength comes from the transformation of resources into capabilities. Will infuses objectives with resolve. Strategy marshals capabilities and brings them to bear with precision. Statecraft seeks through strategy to magnify the mass, relevance, impact, and irresistibility of power. It guides the ways the state deploys and applies its power abroad. These ways embrace the arts of war, espionage, and diplomacy. The practitioners of these three arts are the paladins of statecraft"

A country's power determines its stats in the international arena. Although there are some historical roots of this dispute, the main reason of tense of relations is the power. Japan and China are the great powers of their regions, so their interests will clash like in this dispute. The islands have strategical and economic importance for both countries. Obtaining these islands will also show the world who is the chief of the region. 

In addition, The Chinese Communist Party’s (CCP’s) 18th National Congress originally scheduled for the fall of 2012. So, Chinese leaders will not want to be seen as weak. So, they will try to bring to the fore the feelings of nationalism in China. Japan will also act like China. 

Bo Xilai

However, we should not forget that the Chinese government also has been trying to focus national attention away from allegations of corruption and abuse of power involving a prominent former Communist Party official, Bo Xilai. 

Consequently, these two rival states will not do something wrong to shake their influence in the international arena. Moreover, while the financial crisis continues in the world, other states will not want to go to war like in the Korean War and they will assume the role of mediator.