Senkaku/Diaoyu Islands: A
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Senkaku/Diaoyu Islands: A "Core Interest" of China


Even as tensions with North Korea remain unresolved, East's Asia other flashpoint is once again in the headlines: the Senkaku/Diaoyu islands.

Over the last several weeks, several incidents have increased tensions between China and Japan.

Recently, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe sent a cypress tree branch to the Yasukuni shrine. Members of his cabinet have also visited the shrine, as recently as Administrative reform minister Tomomi Inada on Sunday.

The visits have increased tensions with Beijing as well Seoul. Both nations view the shrine as a symbol of the pain and anguish both suffered during a time of Japanese aggression and imperial conquest.

Last Tuesday, various outlets reported that Chinese military aircraft made more than 40 flights near the Senkakus. This is on top of eight Chinese maritime surveillance vessels also travelling close to the islands the same day.  Japanese F-15s scrambled to meet the Chinese planes in what a Japanese official was quoted as saying was "an unprecedented threat."

On Friday, according to The Japan Times, Chinese foreign ministry spokeswomen Hua Chunying explained at a press conference that “The Diaoyu Islands are about sovereignty and territorial integrity. Of course, it’s China’s core interest.”

China declaring the Senkaku/Diaoyu islands a core interest is of major importance and could very well make efforts at easing tensions a greater challenge. The phrase "core interest" is usually reserved for sensitive Chinese concerns such as Taiwan, Tibet and Xinjiang. Core interests usually note areas of great importance for Beijing considered vital to national survival, and not up for negotiation.

Such a declaration could make it harder for both sides to negotiate a compromise on the islands, or at least return to the status quo. Japan, for its part, has staked out a position that declares that no controversy exists, and thus no need for compromise.

The islands are a highly sought piece of real estate by both sides, as well as Taiwan. The islands are near important sea based shipping lanes where large amounts of international trade transit through. There are also fishing areas both sides view as important, as well as possible natural resources like oil, gas and mineral deposits.

Recently, Japan and Taiwan signed a deal allowing Taiwanese fishing vessels access to the disputed territory.

There does seem to be some hope though that a future clash can be avoided. Japanese and Chinese military officials met last Friday in Beijing. The goal was to find ways to prevent accidental clashes in the East China Sea. While word of what was actually said in the talks is unknown, the Japanese delegation is believed to have urged Beijing "to build a bilateral maritime communications mechanism for crisis management, at an early date." One possibility would be a hotline where both sides could communicate quickly in case tensions on the high seas or in the air reached a tipping point.

June 16, 2013 at 10:44

given all "storm warnings" about the PLAN (their blatantly illegal land seizures + unprecidented expansion of their fleet), the senkakus, just like the philippines, are a very important strategic component for monitoring and maintaining maritime security for the US (as well as Taiwan, Indonesia, Australia, and New Zealand) thus will NEVER become part of china. the us-japan security treaty just happens to work in its favor.

May 16, 2013 at 09:39

Lets say u have a big house about 10,000 square metres, and your neighbour has a smaller house 1,000 square metres. One day your neighbour decided to occupy your big house land and farm by seizing it with superior firepower and succeed, started killing your family and servants. And this thief and robber is Japan. Thank god for atomic bomb that in return destroy the agressor and you get back 9500 square metres of your house and land. Years have pass and now the agressor said that the remaining  500 square metres of your land belong to him??? In this case diayu island. Would you just give it to him because this time the bully has got another bigger bully behind him (usa)

May 1, 2013 at 09:21

Your logic is strange.  You are convinced that nuclear war is a very bad idea.  But you are implying that you are totally okay with china starting one.

"being provocated to start a war" doesn't change the meaning of "start a war."

The fault isn't the bully. The fault is the one that commited murder. A mature person will learn to ignore the bully. Or turn the bully into a joke.

May 1, 2013 at 05:15

@Tom F.

…other than that at some point in time (long ago) China had sovereignty over the islands.

That is, in effect, the whole of the PRC's argument, and they are digging up (or fabricating) copious amounts of evidence to shore up that position. The PRC's view on international law is that territorial disputes should be resolved according to the contemporary laws and situations from which the dispute originates. Of course, this interpretation of law favours the PRC explicitly, and–not uncoincidentally–would justify its suzerainty or seizure of the territories of all nations in the region, since almost all of China's neighbors (excluding russia) were, at one point or another, vassal states that relied upon it for protection or trade (which they had been force to practice at the tip of a sword). The PRC is attempting to lay the groundwork for nothing less than a complete hegemonic and imperial revival, and–once it achieves regional hegemony–it will expect nothing less than total obedience from those nations which it once lorded over, as the original dynasties expected nothing less from their subject-states; any attempt at outside intervention would be met with brutal retaliation, and i have no doubt that the PRC's coming imperial hegemony–should they achieve it–will make any claims of U.S "imperialism" seem insignificant by comparison. Also, should they achieve that, expect mutliple carrier battle-groups sitting off of U.S and European shores to "contain" them within short order.

May 1, 2013 at 05:03

apparently, when the philippines protested the PRC's occupation of the Scarborough Shoal recently, the PRC reacted by saying that the Philippines' claims were illegal, and that it would never agree to international arbitration over the shoal or the spratly islands. Translation: once we have seized an area by force, it is ours, and we will expect you to abide by our rules. And someone said that the U.S was imperialist? What we are seeing more and more is the slipping of the mask on the part of the PRC, which is growing increasingly intolerant of an international order that does not cater to its needs and wishes, and only its needs and wishes. This pattern will repeat itself with the Senkaku islands; the PRC will simply wait until the U.S is tied up in other afairs or otherwise be too weak to respond, and then move in to occupy the islands by force, most likely with a flotilla of "fishing vessels" backed up by a few guided missile destroyers lurking nearby; the PRC can act as it does with the Senkakus and India because it knows that the latter is unwilling to make a meaningful response that might lead to war, just as the U.S is unwilling to risk war with the PRC to prevent what are clearly imperialistic and hegemonic dreams coming to fruition in the long term. We–that is the U.S–sit by at our own peril.

Tom F
April 30, 2013 at 11:27

@James Ong

Just because you say it, or the CCP say it, doesn't mean it's true, legally correct or ethically justifiable. It's everyone's right to believe what they wish to believe, but to live with it requires pragmatism, and no one (except 'may be' NK) is seeing it as China being the instigator of tensions here (and in the entire SCS). 

On the other hand, I think it's quite reasonable to believe that the CCP is being quite pragmatic about the situation, ie they are creating enemies elsewhere to take the attention away from themselves. Unless you have not notice, this is a zero sum game, and diplomacy is never zero-sum, war is, is that what you want?. The entire world don't want war, the Chinese people don't want war, that leaves only the CCP.

As others has pointed out the legal, and administrative status of the island, that which is in favour of Japan, it would be nice for you to point out where you think the entire world has faulted, other than that at some point in time (long ago) China had sovereignty over the islands. 

Iain Johnston
April 30, 2013 at 06:02

Concerning whether or not the PRC has officially declared the Diaoyu/Senkaku islands to be a “core interest”, the source of this story, a Kyodo report, accurately reported that the PRC Foreign Ministry spokesperson stated on April 26, “Of course, the Diaoyudao are part of China’s core interests”. But Kyodo does not report that the official transcripts of the spokesperson’s remarks then removed this sentence. The transcripts officially state that “….China resolutely upholds the nation’s core interests,including national sovereignty, national security, territorial integrity etc. The Diaoyudao issue touches on China’s territorial sovereignty” (涉及中国领土主权). So, for some reason the Foreign Ministry decided to cut what would have been the most direct official statement about the islands being a core interest.

It is possible that the PRC spokesperson strayed a bit from the official position and that the official record reflects official policy. This particular formulation — “touches on territorial sovereignty” –  probably reflects a dilemma the PRC government faces. It cannot say the Diaoyudao/Senkaku are not a core interest. This would create domestic problems for the regime. But it cannot say explicitly that the islands are a core interest, because this could constrain any future space for negotiation. A critical piece of evidence will be whether or not the PRC drops the demand for negotiations with Japan over the islands. If it does, then this would be consistent with an official declaration that the islands are a core interest. If it continues to demand negotiations, this would be consistent with the official position of not (yet) directly stating the islands are a core interest.


April 30, 2013 at 04:47

you seem to think one side can "win" in a war between thermonuclear powers

papa john
April 30, 2013 at 04:08


Japan has been restraining indeed. Unlike China, Japan is acting in a civilized maner. I often told my Japanese friends over lunch, if you have a mighty uncle Sam behind, just blow them off when they appear the Senkakus knowing the Chinese are all talk doing nothing.

Philip Cassini
April 30, 2013 at 02:59

Establishing a hotline between Japan and China is practically worthless because during a crisis the Chinese view hotlines not as a means of communication but as a hostage, to be negotiated over as if they were doing the caller a favour. "We'll answer the hotline if they do what we want" seems to the customary tactic. Furthermore, factional infighting in the SCpolitburo means that the Chinese have trouble designating a single individual to answer calls. During crisis chain of command becomes very diffuse in communist countries, and the consensus-based leadership of the CCP makes that trend even worse. 

Chinese National
April 30, 2013 at 02:43

Obviously a Chinese Agent.  Is this what you do on your FoxxConn breaks?

April 30, 2013 at 02:10

China is all talk. If you don't have CCP blinders on it's easy to see that China has absolutely no qualms about bullying smaller countries like Vietnam & the Philippines. Lika a true cowardly bully they do absolutely nothing to those that can punch them back in the face & sink their piddling PLAN. 


It'd be nice if one of the world's oldest civilizations started acting civilized instead of like a spoiled One Child.

April 30, 2013 at 00:26

If China goes to war with the US and Japan on this issue in the near future it will be crushed. The Us ocupied these islands in the occupation of Japan therefore making them Japanese. The issue is settled regardless of Chinese saber rattling.

April 30, 2013 at 00:03

Nothing new, the Chinese have kept on using "core interest" for all of it's "disputes" when it is just plain land grabbing by the Chinese.

James Ong
April 29, 2013 at 23:35

Japan will surely dragged the US into a war with China, as the nationalistic sentiments are ever increasing on both sides of China and Japan. Japan is constantly making provocations, as if to taunt and challenging China to a war.

China has been restraining herself as her focus is on economic growth and ensuring peace in the region. Hence, she has attempting to resolve the dispute over negotiations. But with Japan lying through her tongue, denying that there is a dispute over the islands, there will come a point when China will figure out that reasoning with Japan makes no sense and only forceful measures can resolve the issue, China will act, even if it means going to war with both the US and Japan.


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