Tensions Mount Between Japan and China
Image Credit: Wikicommons

Tensions Mount Between Japan and China


More and more, the dispute between Japan and China over the Senkaku/Diaoyu Islands in the East China Sea is starting to look like the train wreck that everybody sees coming but feels powerless to prevent. Unless cooler heads prevail, and do so soon, the escalation — now a weekly affair — could turn quite nasty indeed.

The signs were not encouraging at the third Sino-U.S. Colloquium in Hong Kong on Sunday, where Takujiro Hamada, a former Japanese deputy foreign minister, read a speech written by Yachi Shotaro, the top foreign policy adviser to Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe. While there was initial cause for hope, as this was the first time the Japanese sent delegates to the forum, which also counted two retired four-star U.S. generals, the speech sparked a strong response from the Chinese.

While effort should be made to encourage the Japanese and Chinese to engage in dialogue to defuse tensions, relations between the two countries have deteriorated to a point where the two sides often talk past one another. Consequently, rather than foster cooperation, meetings can have the opposite effect by exacerbating the situation. This is exactly what transpired at the forum this weekend.

In his speech, Yachi, who is widely regarded as the architect of Abe’s foreign policy, warned Beijing that its increasingly assertive behavior risked alienating its neighbors and accused China of asserting its claims “by force” through the dispatch of surveillance aircraft and vessels near the disputed islets (three maritime surveillance vessels entered the disputed waters on Monday, the latest in a long string of incursions). Such actions, he said, constituted a breach of the international order.

“Now it is time for you to be content about who you are and what you have accomplished. Now it is time for you to be a good neighbor of Japan, a good neighbor to the Philippines and a good neighbor to Vietnam,” the speech said, in reference to China’s other disputes in the South China Sea, and coming very close to accusing China of revisionism.

The fact that Yachi’s speech was delivered on Chinese territory added to the perceived insult, with retired PLA major-general Pan Zhenqiang, now a government adviser, calling it “very rude and arrogant,” and comparing the affront to the attitude — yes, the wounds of old are resurfacing yet again — adopted by Japanese militarists in the 1930s and 1940s.

While analysts could spend hours debating whether Yachi’s speech, or Pan’s reaction, were warnings or threats, at the end of the day, what should have served as a means to lower tensions (surely the participation of the Japanese at the forum was the result of “goodwill” on both sides) ended up doing the opposite.

Worryingly, some media are starting to report specific actions that would be taken during hostilities. Referring to an article in the Sankei Shimbun, the Want Daily wrote that the Japanese military allegedly had plans to coordinate with the U.S. to sink China’s only aircraft carrier in service, the Liaoning, presumably to destroy what is regarded as a symbol of China’s growing military clout.

Although the veracity of, and the motives behind, such news are difficult to ascertain, real or sensationalistic reports increase the level of noise and create an atmosphere of greater hostility. Already reports that Japanese aircraft could fire tracer rounds to warn off intruding planes prompted a sharp response from a Chinese military analyst, who said that were such a “provocation” to occur, “China wouldn’t stint on responding and not allow them to fire the second shot.”

Once belligerents get caught in the vicious circle, efforts to de-escalate become all the more difficult, with signals getting interpreted through an increasingly narrow frame of mind, both among officials and a public that is inherently more receptive to hardline rhetoric and action.

Beijing’s fear that Tokyo and the U.S. are conspiring against it were strengthened when U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton reaffirmed on Jan. 18 Japan’s administration of the Senkakus and the responsibility of the U.S. to intervene in any conflict over the islets, which prompted a strongly worded rebuke from the Chinese Foreign Ministry on Monday. Xinhua News Agency also weighed in the same day, calling Clinton’s remarks “exceedingly wrong” and added that “the chaotic U.S. foreign policies” would embolden “right-wing” Japanese elements and “intensify tensions.” Again turning to historical grievances, the editorial wrote: “U.S. explicit endorsement of a right-leaning Japan is sure to raise concerns among Asian countries, many of which still hold bitter memories of Japan’s wartime atrocities and are casting a wary eye on the newly installed hawkish administration in Tokyo.”

It doesn’t take much to realize that armed conflict between the world’s second- and third-largest economies (with possible intervention by the first) would have devastating consequences. The leaderships in Tokyo and Beijing know this. But so did the leaders of countries that, throughout history, didn’t do enough to change the signals in time to avoid the inevitable. By allowing the situation to spiral downwards, whether for domestic gain or through inattention, politicians create an environment that becomes increasingly conducive to misinterpretation and accidents.

This is the situation East Asia finds itself in right now, and there are very few signs that the participants are actively seeking to alter the course.

April 6, 2013 at 16:19


This message is not just for you but also for thediplomat.com. What are you going to acheive by leaving this hatred mesage here? How do you feel and what do you think If I tell you Hiroshima and Nagasaki was really in hell in 1945. This is suppose to be a respectable website, or at least should appear to be. But the web management is doing nothing to do some control on the anti China side. If the pro Japan gangs are allowed to do this, then the pro China people should be allowed to do the same. So pardon me here everyone. "Japan go to hell too". Just eye for an eye. If this website is really a respectable one and is serious about our complaint this post should go through without any moderation. Otherwise it is just another propaganda platform for the anti China gangs and is not respectable and not reliable. As for the conflict between China and Japan, time is not on Japan's side. Time is not on Uncle Sam's side either. Wish this web site get our respect.

February 1, 2013 at 01:45

Beat China? From 1940s to 1960s, China beat America in Korean war and Venenese war. China won Russia in its north boundary and and won India in its south boundary using the very backward weapons.  India got the all of advantaged weapon support from America, Russia and British and they still losed.
Of course, the current advanced weapons can bomb the whole China easily. But how can you know you won't be revenged? You want another 911 launched by Chinese? Can you afford even one nuclear bomb dropped in America after most of Chinese cities have been destroyed? 
War is not good for all of countries. Except you can garanntee the war always occurs in other people's land.

February 1, 2013 at 01:31

Which country had more wars in the last 200 years? US or China? Which country gets biggest benefits from selling weapons to other countries and print useless dollars to the world? The current Janpanese priminister is the grandson of one of the greatest war criminal during world war 2. Janpanese's text book still teach their children they self-defenced their contry during ww2. So you tell me which country is more evil?

January 31, 2013 at 20:37

To hell with old documents! No one will return former Roman territories to Italy… although I'd be laughing if Mongolia were to reclaim their empire, which includes China. The only thing that matters is THE document signed by the US Senate (the last legal owner of the islands before Japan got them back after the signing) in which the entire set of islands from Okinawa to the Senkakus are to be returned to Japan in May 1972. Comrade Mao screwed up big time when he had the chance to get those islands by talking to the US, so the only one to blame is the fat walrus. Move on!

нужны охранные услуги?!
January 31, 2013 at 17:12

Thank you, I have just been looking for information approximately this subject for ages and yours is the best I’ve came upon till now. However, what in regards to the bottom line? Are you sure in regards to the source?|What i don’t understood is if truth be told how you are no longer actually a lot more well-favored than you might be now. You’re very intelligent.

Kim's Uncle
January 30, 2013 at 16:20

As I see it sino nazi regime is following in the footsteps of imperial Japan and nazi germany! Those countries became aggressive and waged war of conquest to seize strategic natural resources and lebensraum! primitive china has not learn from the experiences of Japan and Germany. when waging a war of conquest Japan and Germany almost became destroyed by the allies! Chinese should learn from history of Japan n Germany if not allies will destroy china as they did to Japan n Germany! Chinese do not follow warlike behavior of imperial Japan or nazi germany or else Chinese cities will be like Hiroshima n Nagasaki! Poof!!!

Kim's Uncle
January 30, 2013 at 04:07

Sino nazis can only dream of dominating other people like they think they can dominate Chinese in china! The civilized people of the world are not Chinese who can be cowed into submission like scared rabbits! The world’s people can fight back and are not frightened by the CCP like Chinese are frightened of their CCP masters. Sino nazis will soon find out for themselves! Sino nazis will learn the hard way just as the real nazis are dust in the wind!

January 24, 2013 at 10:32

wonderful post, eddie (i looked at your blog). I believe, however, that the issue at the core of the tensions between Japan, China and the U.S (which supports Japan) cannot so easily be resolved, for the issue in question has to do with how China has modernized and–most importantly–why it has modernized. Anyone who has studied Chinese History will remember that before the Opium Wars, the Chinese Empire–justifiably so–considered itself to the the center of its known world; for millenia, its was the most advanced culture on earth, boasting credible levels of literacy and an advanced industrial base as early as the warring states period. For example, pamphlets taught about blacksmithing and farming techniques; the Imperial Examination System, implemented during the Han Dynasty, no doubt fostered the culture that allowed China to produce many critical inventions that we still use derivatives of today: the compass, gunpowder and paper. Furthermore, despite significant land barriers, the various dynasties of China were almost constantly at the heart of a trade network that spanned most of Eurasia. It is no exaggeration, then, that they considered themselves to be the central kingdom, what Zhongguo translates to. Unfortunately, this central position has fostered incredible cultural arrogance on the part of the Chinese that dwarfs even the arrogance fostered by the notion of American Exceptionalism. This arrogance persisted until the Opium Wars, when China was defeated by a nation with less than 1/16th of their population, in large part due to the fact that Chinese Hubris had led them to look inward rather than outward, fostering a belief that no one could challenge them.
This is what lies at the heart of tensions between China and Japan, in which the U.S is involved by alliance and treaty; ever since the first Opium War, China's modernization has had a single goal: the dissolution of the western led order created when China was defeated, and its replacement with a Chinese-led world-order that caters to its interests alone. Thus, China's "rise" is not so much a rise but an attempt to turn back the geopolitical clock; in the view of China's leaders, China was always an unparalleled empire, and therefore it should always be this way, and a world led by any other people is not only alien but intolerable to the leadership of the CPC. It should be no surpris, then, that in a very real sense, China's modernization has paralleled the course taken by Japan under their "Tenno Joi" slogan; Japan adopted western customs and technology for the sole reason of restoring the position they felt they deserved. This came to its logical culmination with the military coup at the end of the 1920's and the subsequent use of Japan's military to attempt the creation of the "east asian co-prosperity sphere". The only difference between Imperial Japan before 1945 and the present day PRC is the length of time needed to modernize to the point that this goal is feasible.
This explains the PRC's insistence that the South Sea and the Senkaku islands be theirs; not only will these areas grant them (temporary) resource independence, but they will also serve as the first step in a "Great Seawall", which the PRC for two functions. The first function is the securing of routes into the Pacific for both military and civilian traffic. The second is the furthering of the PRC's ultimate goal–the very purpose for which it was created: the removal of all U.S presence from Asia and the reestablishment of the Chinese Empire or, as it will be called, "Hegemony with Chinese characteristics."
The Senkakus will, if China manages to seize them via the false history it has manufactured, be militarized; the largest of the islands will be turned into a port and military airbase from which the democratic life can be  choked out of Taiwan, cementing the dominance of the CPC over China. The islands will also be used as a forward air-base from which to assault Okinawa and other U.S bases in the area, with the intent of isolating Japan. This isolation cannot be completed without the taking of the South Sea, however; if this area is totally fortified as is being done with the Parcel Islands, Spratly Islands, Mischief reef and Scarborough Shoal, U.S access via the south pacific can be stalled if not prevented entirely…which would allow China to concentrate the majority of its naval forces in the north near Korea to meet U.S fleets coming from the direction of Alaska and Hawaii. With this isolation completed, Japan could be finlandized and its people….."corrected" for the horrors that their ancestors perpetrated on China; one does not drill the horrors that the Kwantung Army committed into the heads of schoolchildren across generations without the intent to someday reply in kind.
So then, if the PRC has these goals in mind, why the "routine patrols" and all the sabre-rattling? The answer is simple: the patrols and incursions are bait, meant both to test the strength of the U.S-Japan alliance, as well as to provoke Japan into firing the first shot. If Japan does so, then the CPC can present the whole of China as a victim of "renewed Japanese aggression" to its otherwise fractured people, and unite them for the conquest and reclamation it intends. Of course, all this does not happen in a vacuum, so how to deal with the U.S when it intervenes. Again, the answer is simple, and it is the reason why the PRC has held North Korea so close all these years: if the U.S intervenes, the PRC will restart the Korean War with the intent of not only unifying the peninsula under the rule of its North Korean puppet, but also dragging the U.S into a brutal land war for the defense of South Korea, in an attempt to grind down its will to fight in a war of attrition. A Chinese victory here, would, of course, not only completely shatter U.S alliances, but it would also further isolate Japan.      

Sc Lai
January 24, 2013 at 10:26

Please be specific,don't just make wild accusation and stop painting China's will to protect her territorial integrity as invading other country.Has China fired a single shot ,so far?If your neighbor A said to neighbor B that the latter could Administer a piece of land in your backyard even if the former had no idea who the legal owner was( takes no side who it's sovereignty belongs),and you Don't take action?And now the former is saying if you dare to fight,I will come to the latter's aid.knowing very well you legally own it,can you swallow this?

January 24, 2013 at 03:37

almost never. Unless, that is, you count diplomacy at the point of a spear or sword as "diplomacy" The PRC, like all other Chinese Dynasties does not truly negotiate; rather, it negotiates and conducts diplomacy only when either it has no choice or when it can dictate the terms to those who it would be practicing diplomacy with.

January 23, 2013 at 20:20

You stated that "No one wants War", but are you sure?
The PLA/N sole reason to exist was war and it was the the "Non Chinese businesses", who believed that to deal with China was to make peaceful relations.
The PLA doesn't care about business. Therefore, why should they care if they destroy the business world.

John Lewis
January 23, 2013 at 19:34

China will never start or fight any wars. She do not have too, as time is on her side!!
All China has to do, is , indulges in a bit of economic warfare and gives Japan a hard time. In twenty years time when the Chinese economy reigns number one, it will be impossible for Japan to hold on to these rocks.
Anyway, Japan has the audacity to ask the Russian to returns the islands north of Hokaido that were seized by the Red Army at the close of WWII when they themself do not have the sincerity to return the Dioyutai to China….so go figure out your silly position that you are in, Japan. These Kurile islands are a lot, lot bigger and valuable than the Dioyutai rocks. Japan position is untenable and do not expect the Russian to entertain your request for talks.

Valvoly Tampetti
January 23, 2013 at 15:14

Hey Joe,
What you think happen when ballistic missile launch detected?  Maybe other missiles take flight through space.
What happen then?  I think no matter, party over for all.  To bad china need feel to go back to past, future could
be better maybe.

Valvoly Tampetti
January 23, 2013 at 14:58

Sorry Genghis that boat don't float.  China has not only been acting aggressive toward it's immediate neighbors, but also toward countries that have opened the door to them commercially.  China is and has been the aggressor on many different fronts for some time now.  China is trying to apply the old adage "He who has the gold, makes the golden rules".  Using the sweat and blood of the Chinese people to aquire said gold.  To what end? 

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