October Surprise: 2012 Sino-Japanese War Edition
A chain of islands with a land area just a little more than 10% that of Manhattan is causing big trouble in East Asia. The Senkaku Islands are a persistent thorn in Sino-Japanese relations, and it appears that both countries are on course for one of the epic dick-measuring contests they have every couple of years over the chain. Below, I’ve linked to a report to events this weekend in the region.
The Senkaku Islands have been a source of dispute between China and Japan since the late 1970s, but the truth of the matter is that neither one of them actually gives a damn about the islands themselves. No one actually lives there. They are barren rock outcrops about a hundred miles away from anything of interest, but they grant an Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) which includes the Chunxiao field, which is believed to be rich in natural gas/petroleum but has yet to be developed because of the dispute.
Prior to 1895, the islands where unoccupied, although the People’s Republic of China claims them on the basis that the surrounding waters have been exploited by Chinese fisherman for centuries. Bolstering this claim is the belief that the chain is historically connected to Okinawa, which between 1429-1879 was part of the Chinese vassal, Ryuku Kingdom. However, it should also be noted that from 1609 on, Okinawa was also a vassal of the Japanese Satsuma Domain.
The 1895 Sino-Japanese war resulted in the transfer of Chinese claims in the region, including Taiwan and Okinawa to the Japanese. That same year, Japan annexed the Senkaku islands, claiming that they were terra nullis and placed a small number of settlers on them. This situation persisted until the end of the Second World War, after which Taiwan was returned to China, and the US occupied Okinawa and the Senkakus. In 1972, the US returned both to Japan. At roughly the same time, the present dispute emerged as the gas/oil potential of the surrounding waters became known.
Every few years, there’s a heated exchange over the islands that normally dies down after 2-3 months. Both Chinese and Japanese nationalists are passionately dedicated to the idea that the Senkaku islands are an integral part of their country. Beyond the possibility of mineral wealth, there are extremist groups on both sides that have fueled the dispute. Most recently in 2010, the arrest of Chinese fishermen after they rammed a Japan Coast Guard vessel attempting to remove them from the waters surrounding the islands led to a rapid escalation in the war of words between the country.
Although it is clear that the Chinese fishermen (likely acting as proxies for the Chinese government) were the aggressors in this case, ultimately it was the Japanese government that backed down. In 2010, the Chinese government began to lose control over the protests cum riots which occurred throughout the country against Japanese interests. Japanese nationalists loathed this, and having been looking for a way to force the Japanese national government to take a strong stand against persistent violations of their territorial waters by Chinese activists and fishing vessels. So they raised money to buy the damn islands.
Sarajevo on the Sea
Until this year, the Senkaku Islands were owned by the descendants of one of the Japanese families which settled the islands after 1895. Earlier this year, Shintaro Ishihara, governor of Tokyo prefecture and leader in the opposition LDP, raised private funds to purchase the islands from the family, and attach them to Tokyo prefecture. In order to preempt this, the Japanese national government made moves to purchase the islands themselves, eventually turning them over to the Japan Coast Guard earlier this week. This news provoked serious protests in China, and prompted the decision to send Chinese warships to patrol the islands. This is the CCP responding to the Chinese street. Better for Beijing to be with the protesters throwing rocks, then getting them thrown at them.
From the Daily KOS: