Japan’s Purchase of Disputed Island Stirs Tension

As the tensions between China and Japan mount over the Diaoyu Islands, Japan’s government says it will purchase the islands from the private owner. The territorial dispute has already placed strains between the two countries. From the Washington Post:

Chief Cabinet Secretary Osamu Fujimura said Japan will buy the three uninhabited islands in the East China Sea from a private Japanese family it recognizes as the owner. China and Taiwan also claim the islands, which are part of what Japan calls the Senkakus and China the Diaoyu group.

Fujimura said the decision to nationalize the islands reflects Japan’s desire to create a “stable and secure” environment, not to anger China.

“We hope there will be no misunderstandings,” he said.

Fujimura said the decision to buy the islands was made at a meeting of Cabinet ministers who are involved in the purchase plans. The full Cabinet, led Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda, is expected to approve the decision on Tuesday.

China has responded to Japan’s pending purchase with a statement from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Xinhua reports:

Despite the repeated solemn representations of China, the Japanese government announced on Sept. 10 the so-called “purchase” of the Diaoyu Islands and the affiliated Nanxiao Dao and Beixiao Dao to “nationalize” them. This act is a severe infringement of Chinese territorial sovereignty, which gravely hurts the feelings of the 1.3 billion Chinese people and seriously tramples on historical facts and international laws. The Chinese government and people have expressed firm opposition and strong protest toward the act.

The Diaoyu Islands and their affiliated islets have been the sacred territory of China since ancient times, backed by historical and legal evidence. They were first discovered, named and used by the Chinese. Throughout the years, Chinese fishermen have conducted production activities on these islands and neighboring waters. They were within China’s maritime defense sphere as early as the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644) and have been the affiliated islets of China’s Taiwan. The Diaoyu Islands have never been the so-called “Terra Nullius.” China is their indisputable owner.

In recent years, the Japanese government has continuously stirred up trouble regarding the issue of the Diaoyu Islands. Especially this year, it has placated and indulged right wing forces as they set off the storm of “island purchase” in order to pave the way for such purchase on its own. People have reason to believe that these actions by the Japanese side on the issue of the Diaoyu Islands are absolutely not accidental. The political tendency that they reflect is very worthy of vigilance. We cannot help but ask: After all, where is Japan going? Can Japan’s future trend give reassurance to people?

The Chinese government has solemnly stated that the Japanese government’s so-called “island purchase” is illegal, invalid and cannot in the least change the historical fact of the Japanese occupation of Chinese territory, and cannot in the least change China’s territorial sovereignty over the Diaoyu Islands and their affiliated islets. The era of the Chinese people’s humiliation has passed, not to return again. The Chinese government will not sit back as its territorial sovereignty is violated. The Chinese side strongly urges the Japanese side to immediately stop all acts that harm China’s territorial sovereignty, come back 100 percent to the consensus and understanding reached by both sides and use negotiation to resolve disputes. If the Japanese side clings obstinately to its own course, all serious consequences from this can only be borne by the Japanese side.

According to Reuters, other officials have rebuked the purchase of the disputed territory:

Japan has agreed to buy a group of islands disputed with China from their private owners, a government official said on Monday, prompting an angry rebuke from China a day after Chinese President Hu Jintao warned against such an “illegal” move.

But China was firm in its opposition to what it saw as a “political trend”.

Chinese Foreign Minister Yang Jiechi called in Japanese Ambassador Uichiro Niwa to lodge a strong protest, while state-run Xinhua news agency cited Premier Wen Jiabao as saying China would “never yield an inch” of territory.

Aside from political officials, Japan’s purchase has garnered criticism among Chinese citizens. This comes amid anti-Japanese protests and the attack on a Japanese envoy’s car. The New York Times reports:

Hu Lingyuan, deputy director of the Center for Japanese Studies at Fudan University in Shanghai, said the Japanese notion of reducing tensions by buying the islands before the Tokyo government could do so would not mollify Beijing.

“Justifying the so-called nationalization as a means to keep the Diaoyu Islands situation stable is self-deception,” he said of the purchase. “The Chinese people won’t fall for the Noda government’s lie.”

In contrast, a prominent Chinese journalist, Wang Shuo, the managing editor of Caixin Media, said that the Japanese government was acting responsibly.

“China is protesting because it cannot accept the transfer of sovereignty of areas under dispute,” Mr. Wang said Tuesday on his microblog. “It doesn’t mean the situation is worsening.”

While Japan moves to purchase the islands, the Wall Street Journal reports China is flexing its muscle in the Pacific:

China’s assertive territorial claims in the East and South China Seas have flared intermittently over the years into diplomatic and even physical confrontations. Until recently, however, these incidents—seizures of islands, reefs or rock outcroppings, or naval vessels ramming one another—have subsided after a flurry of tactical responses.

Foreign Minister Yang Jeichi replied bluntly that China was sovereign over the territories, and government media mouthpiece Xinhua warned the U.S. that “strategic miscalculations about a rising power could well lead to confrontations and even bloody conflicts, like the war between ancient Athens and Sparta. To avoid such a catastrophic scenario, Washington has to change its obsolete and doubt-ridden thinking pattern and cooperate with Beijing to settle their differences.”

China sees these waters through a prism of increasing confidence based on geographical proximity; the weakness of, and competition among, the other territorial claimants; decreasing U.S. Navy capabilities due to draconian budget reductions; President Obama’s diffidence in protecting U.S. interests abroad; and, for most Americans, the uninspiring abstractness of “freedom of the seas.”

China’s goal is to split the seams, pitting Vietnam against the Philippines; isolating Japan; neutralizing Taiwan, and otherwise sowing discord among its competitors. The more intra-Asean disputes we can eliminate, the greater the potential for a common position. This pragmatic diplomatic strategy of resolving non-Chinese competing claims hardly guarantees positive results, but it beats repeating academic mantras about international law. (Taiwan could also help politically by renouncing China’s outlandish claims to disputed territories.)

China has sent two patrol ships to the region, which reached the waters around the disputed islands Tuesday, according to the Los Angeles Times:

The official New China News Agency said the two patrol boats were sent to “assert the country’s sovereignty” over the islands, known as Diaoyu in China and Senkaku in Japan.

The paramilitary ships are operated by the China Marine Surveillance, the country’s coast guard. State media said the maritime agency had “drafted an action plan for safeguarding the sovereignty and would take actions pending the development of the situation.”

The Japanese government has said it will mobilize the coast guard once the Chinese ships reach the disputed islands.