How a Minor China-Japan Fishing Dispute Blew into a Diplomatic Hurricane

The Christian Science Monitor looks at recent events in the China-Japan relationship that led to the current diplomatic crisis:

Though Japan administers the disputed islands, known in Chinese as the Diaoyu and in Japanese as the Senkaku, China also claims them. The two sides agreed 30 years ago to shelve the territorial dispute in order to cooperate on fisheries and gas-drilling projects, but the current row illustrates how easily and quickly Sino-Japanese relations can deteriorate.

China is especially sensitive to questions of sovereignty, whether they be raised in Tibet, Taiwan, or islands that Beijing claims throughout the oceans that lap its eastern shores.

And with China’s leaders beginning to jockey for position in advance of the 2012 Communist Party Congress that will select the next leadership, “this is no time to be seen as being conciliatory,” says Drew Thompson, head of China studies at the Nixon Center in Washington. “The safest position is to be a hard-liner with regard to outside actors,” he adds.

Similarly, in Tokyo, “it is politically important not to appear soft on China” for the ruling Democratic Party of Japan, which is struggling in the polls, says Tobias Harris, who runs the ObservingJapan.com website. “The government is unwilling to bend on its position.”

The sovereignty dispute is particularly delicate in the wake of China’s emergence as the second-largest economy in the world, overtaking Japan, according to figures released last month.

See also: “Upping the Ante in China-Japan Clash” from the Council on Foreign Relations and “China rekindles anti-Japanese sentiment over disputed islands” from the Vancouver Sun.

Danwei points us to an animation about the dispute, featuring China as a panda and Japan as a ninja, which was broadcast on China’s Next Media:

Chinese media also published an emotional portrait of the family of the detained fisherman.

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