How Involved Is Xi Jinping in the Diaoyu Crisis? (Page 2 of 2)

The chain of events since Tokyo’s purchase of the islands would appear to confirm that a plan of this nature was drawn up. Beijing began sending civilian law enforcement vessels to patrol the area around the Senkaku/Diaoyu islands, crossing into the 12- nautical-mile territorial zone around the islands, with the intention of “protecting” China’s sovereignty. Next, aircraft of these law enforcement agencies were sent to patrol the islands, prompting Japan to send fighter jets to intercept what Tokyo views as intruders. It wasn’t long before Chinese and Japanese jets were both engaging one another over the islands. It is not known whether the most recent action by China, the locking of radar onto a Japanese vessel, was the next step in the task force’s plan, but it seems plausible.

What is not plausible is that Xi Jinping would have personally approved this particular lock-on radar action; he would not have been consulted on one specific PLA operation. It is also unlikely that an individual frigate commander made the decision independently. The order presumably came from a senior level officer of the Northern Fleet command.

Although Xi presumably agreed to the task force’s plan of a step-by-step approach to increase pressure on Japan, a Chinese official I spoke to on January 10, 2013 said that Xi had not attended meetings of the “Office to Respond to the Diaoyu Crisis” since becoming General Secretary of the CCP in mid-November.  If accurate and if Xi has not attended meetings between January 10 and the present (of which I have no information), Xi’s absence raises serious concerns related to the consequences of inattention by China’s senior leaders to the islands’ disputes – an issue I discussed in a recent Lowy Institute Analysis, China’s foreign policy dilemma.

Decision-making processes in China are often dysfunctional. In examples of the lack of control or coordination within China’s decision-making apparatus, the Ministry of Public Security and the Hainan provincial government both made unilateral decisions in recent months that damaged China’s international standing and caused an outcry in neighboring countries. Once a decision concerning a sensitive issue has been announced publicly it is very difficult for Xi to retract it. China does, after all, officially claim several disputed islands and the surrounding waters as its own territory, so issuing a directive to nullify a new directive related to sovereignty issues would be interpreted as bowing to outside pressure. As the new leader of the Communist Party, Xi must establish his credentials as a leader who will protect China’s national sovereignty and not allow outsiders to dictate China’s actions. Moreover, Xi has yet to consolidate his power base with numerous Communist Party factions that he relies on for political support.

The current situation between China and Japan is extremely worrisome.  There is a genuine risk of a fatal incident occurring – whether intentional or accidental. In such a situation, Xi and Japan’s Prime Minister Shinzo Abe would be under intense domestic pressure to respond harshly, given the nationalist sentiment in both countries. Neither leader would have much room to maneuver, and the situation could spiral out of control.

In sum, it is probable that Xi personally approved a step-by-step plan to intensify pressure on Japan to accept that the islands are disputed. But we do not know to what level of detail Xi Jinping is kept abreast of activities in the islands’ dispute. In the Lowy Institue Analysis, I quote a Chinese official involved in the standoff with Japan. He said, “It would be inaccurate to say that Xi Jinping is not aware of the dangers related to the Diaoyu issue, but at times he is intentionally given exaggerated assessments by those who want him to take a tough stance.” There are several groups of elites in China who would like Xi to take a “tougher stance”, especially when dealing with Japan.

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 twenty years.



Andrew Ballen
August 16, 2013 at 16:16

I'm not at all sure that the US' position as the reserve currency of default is unassailable.  The fact that China, Japan and Russia are all considering how to purchase commodities and trade with one another in currencies other than the greenback is telling and should raise serious alarms.  The commenter does have a point.  The US economy is consuming more than it produces and sells, the only reason it can continue to do this is because other countries are essentially forced to keep a healthy reserve of US denominated currency to purchase oil, gold, and foodstuffs.  That regime, a staple of the global economy for the last 50 odd years, may fast be changing.  We should take care.

[...] extolling the primacy of the military are actually synonyms of those used by Jiang and Hu.  And Xi’s standing up of a dedicated, high-level office to oversee the East China Sea dispute with … is part of assertive policies in the East and South China Seas dating back to 2008.  Conclusion: [...]

[...] How Involved Is Xi Jinping in the Diaoyu Crisis? [...]

[...] [...]

SC Lai
February 13, 2013 at 23:12

So did Bush, Chipney, Rumsfield, Bliar, CIA and State department said Iraq had WMD.

Samurai X
February 12, 2013 at 16:06

Spokeswoman Victoria Nuland today commented that the US believed that Chinese frigate DID lock the laser onto Japanese frigate. Japan has already stated that they have the proof both with data and video, and most likely has shown it to the US.


This is a real embarrassment for China and Xi, especially his spokeswoman Huang blamed Japan for lying. But Nuland’s comment only means that 1) the world is about to find out that China is a liar, or 2) Xi and CCP has no control over PLA and they aren’t informed correctly. Whichever it is, Japan stood strong this time and didn’t back down from China’s thug activities. Xi has no choice but call it quit, and this mistake of Chinese foreign policy will be a great encouragement for Philippine, Vietnam and Taiwan. Great Job, Prime Minister Abe!

Kim's Uncle
February 12, 2013 at 07:17

I don’t think you know about economics huh? :). The USSR imploded because the centrally planned economy was unable to provide the goods and services to its population hence the shortages and long lines. Supply and demand was not in equilibrium! In advanced Western economies no one is starving, there no shortages!!!! Western countries produce goods n services for their own consumption not for exports!! You conflate the government running deficits as a sign a country is defaulting? LOL. If the US government is defaulting then no one would be willing to buy US Treasuries! But that is not the case! US t bills are consider risk free assets that’s why China, Japan and Saudi Arabia continue to buy US treasuries! US dollar is a reserve currency unlike china RMB. Write more so we laugh at your ignorance about international economics!

[...] . . . that Xi Jinping would have personally approved this particular lock-on radar action,” because_kmq.push(["trackClickOnOutboundLink","link_5118f9cae7cb3","Article link [...]

February 11, 2013 at 16:09

Again, I see a historic pattern…will this current conflict and resultant arms race collapse the US-Japan-NATO axis, all deeply in debt, the way the USSR collapsed after over extending itself, invading and being bogged down in Afghanistan, while its own cities and economies decay?

February 11, 2013 at 15:14

We respect the people for their prowess, and call them "hero".

Kim's Uncle
February 11, 2013 at 12:47

China’s economy depends on western n Japanese consumer markets because they are the only ones with purchasing power to buy china’s low tech cheap sh*t crap!!!! There is no such thing as Chinese consumer market. Most Chinese work and save most of their income because there is no safety net such social security in china! Over 2/3 of china’s GDP is derived from exports and without western markets china would have no economy! So many laughable Econ illiterate on here especially from mainland china! The US or Japan is not bankrupt! The government spends more than it takes in. That’s not bankrupt! It is a deficit! The government can always raise taxes if foreigners or investors stop buying US T bills! Remember most US economy is in private hands! There are no SOEs in the US unlike china! Private businesses produce goods n services for domestic consumption. The US does not depend on exports to generate its GDP. 70% of US GDP is derived from C the consumption part of the Keynesian equation not Ex the export part. Yeah go ahead China start a war let’s see no one will buy your cheap sh*t crap from slave labor!!! Your GDP will surely shrink and the “mass incidents” will explode in the CCP faces!

February 11, 2013 at 12:18

US is in a deep hole but you know what, when the time comes for war of a massive scale since this is China we are talking about. All the Western private banks will pour money, no longer Government is in control. If they have to, the Banks themselves will finance war directly. They've done many times before….

Leonard R.
February 11, 2013 at 11:15

I think I mentioned your conclusion  "b)" – the CYA bit. 


Xi's pronouncements have been pretty mild on this issue. That makes me wonder about him. And I'm not sure where the element of surprise fits in. The JDF shouldn't be surprised if China attacks. I would be surprised. But that's just me. I'm nobody important.


China usually attacks unprepared neighbors, a'la India 1962 or the Philippines, 1997, 2011. That's my opinion. Japan is not unprepared. An attack by China would send shock waves around the world. It would be a diplomatic and political disaster for Beijing. The world's sympathy would be with Japan. So I think the only way China attacks will be if there is another Wrong Way Wang Wei patrolling the Senkakus today. If so, all bets are off. 

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