How Involved Is Xi Jinping in the Diaoyu Crisis?
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How Involved Is Xi Jinping in the Diaoyu Crisis?


The announcement by Japan’s defense minister that a Chinese frigate last month locked its weapons-control radar onto a Japanese destroyer was jarring. The already tense stand-off between Beijing and Tokyo over the disputed Senkaku/Diaoyu islands escalated to a new and dangerous level.

Japanese officials have not clarified whether the incident took place on the high seas or in disputed waters. Chinese officials have not confirmed the incident. But the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA) spokeswoman initially gave a vague answer when asked about it, giving rise to speculation that government officials in Beijing were not entirely on top of the most recent turn of events. The fact that the MFA was not kept in the loop about a military incident like this is not surprising. The power of the ministry has been on the decline for several years. There are numerous examples of the MFA not being consulted on, or informed of, decisions made by other government agencies, let alone the PLA.

A more crucial question is whether or not Xi Jinping had approved of the Chinese frigate locking its radar onto the Japanese vessel. Consequently, analysts around the world are once again pondering a perpetual question: Is the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) acting independently of the Communist Party (CPC) leadership?

The only honest answer to the question is that we simply do not know. Decision-making processes in China are opaque. We know that major political decisions are made by the all-powerful seven-member Politburo Standing Committee, headed by Xi Jinping, who is also the chair of the Central Military Commission. As the only civilian on the Central Military commission, Xi is the crucial link between senior civilian and military leaders, but nothing is known about the precise nature of interaction between Xi and PLA leaders when pivotal decisions are made. Not even the timing and agenda of either the Politburo Standing Committee or Central Military Commission meetings are made public.

Based on private discussions I have had with Chinese officials since the Japanese government’s purchase of three of the five disputed islands in September 2012, the most recent escalation reflects the next step in plans made by China’s senior leaders in response to what Beijing perceives as an intolerable state of affairs. Xi Jinping was reportedly made head of a new “Office to Respond to the Diaoyu Crisis” soon after the Japanese government’s announcement. State Counsellor Dai Binguo, China’s top diplomat for the past five years, as well as several senior military officers were assigned to this task force. 

From Beijing’s perspective, the decision by the Japanese government last September to purchase the islands from their private owner signaled the nationalization of the islands, an unacceptable change in the status quo. According to my sources, a step-by-step plan was devised by the new Diaoyu task force and then approved by Xi to deal with each possible contingency. The plan’s goal is to force the Japanese government to at a minimum acknowledge that the sovereignty of the islands is disputed. Japan’s current stance is that there is no dispute – the islands belong to Japan. A change in Japan’s stance would open up the possibility for both sides to use diplomatic channels to agree that vessels of each respective nation would patrol the disputed waters on alternate days to assert sovereignty. More importantly, it could facilitate discussions on sharing fishing rights in the disputed waters. Fishermen have been at the center of several disputes which have led to an escalation of tensions between the two countries.

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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