Japanese Shipping Firm Pays WW2-Era Debt


Some China-related links ahead of the weekend:

In a follow-up to the previous story in The Diplomat, the Japanese shipping firm Mitsui O.S.K. Lines (MOL) secured the release of its ore-carrier Baosteel Emotion by paying 2.9 billion yen ($28 million) in compensation to a Chinese family. In the 1930s, a Chinese steamship company leased two vessels to a predecessor of MOL. The ships were later commandeered by the Imperial Japanese Navy and both sank before the end of the war. The Baosteel Emotion was seized by the Shanghai Maritime Court this week to enforce a 2010 ruling that MOL owed 2.9 billion yen to the heirs of the Chinese company in compensation for the lost ships. On its website, MOL confirmed that the Baosteel Emotion has departed the port in Zhejiang province where it had been impounded.

In other news, the Chinese magazine Caixin carried a report on a group of petitioners’ quest to find the “black jail” where they were held captive (some for up to 20 days) to prevent them from filing their grievances in Beijing. The victims described being strip-searched and beaten. They said they were held in a house with four rooms, and each room housed as many as 20 people. Several of the petitioners wrote down whatever information they could find regarding their location, including the phone number of a repairman who visited the house. They were eventually able to discover the exact house where they had been held, and filed a police report.

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Three of the alleged security guards at the black jail are currently being tried on charges of illegal detention. However, as the man supposedly in charge of this particular “black jail” remains at large, the court says there is no way to investigate the petitioners’ claim that they were abducted on the orders of local government officials.  According to the petitioners, the boss’ wife told them that she and her husband were paid directly by local officials to run and operate “black jails” in the area surrounding Beijing.

Finally, two dueling op-eds in the New York Times this week show a stark difference of opinion on America’s role in the territorial dispute between China and Japan.

Michael Green of the Center for Strategic and International Studies in DC writes that “the fundamental problem is China’s pattern of coercion against neighbors along its maritime borders.” Accordingly, he says the solution is to “convince Beijing that coercion will no longer work” — and, on the flip side, Green argues that convincing Japan to compromise with China is “the worst thing Washington could do.” Green believes the U.S. should pursue a two-pronged strategy: strengthening defense cooperation with Japan to reassure its ally (and dissuade Beijing from coercion) while also prodding China to join Japan for military confidence-building talks and discussions of improved military-to-military communications.

However, Wu Xinbo, the director of the Center for American Studies at Fudan University in Shanghai, has a decidedly different take. Wu writes that  “the United States has been a destabilizing force in the dispute.” Its reassurances to Japan have “emboldened Tokyo to take a more aggressive stance toward Beijing,” Wu argues, and as a result China is pressured “to sustain, and even step up, its patrols in the East China Sea so as to resist the combined American-Japanese power.” Accordingly, to resolve the situation, the U.S. should “help rein in Japan” and encourage Tokyo to “pursue more reconciliatory policies toward China” — which is exactly the course of action Green recommended against.

These two op-eds are broadly representatives of the mainstream views of American and Chinese analysts. As noted, they come to completely opposite conclusions about the proper role of the U.S. in the China-Japan dispute — and, by extension, in the larger Asia-Pacific region. The divergence reflects a fundamental disagreement on the basic question: who is really to blame for increased tensions in East Asia?

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