Proceedings, December 2012
The Senkaku/Diaoyu Tai Islands dispute between China and Japan has ramped up in a heated season of discontent, but given the position China has backed itself into through official pronouncements and military showmanship, Japan, Taiwan, and the United States have the opportunity to resolve the dispute. They can do this by forcing China to recognize a transfer of administrative control of the islands to Taiwan, or rather, the Republic of China (ROC), the legally binding designee of World War II–era diplomatic agreements. This action would accomplish a number of things:
- Reward China and Taiwan for recent stabilization of cross-strait ties and improve economic relations, and place the two sides in common cause over a security/territory issue.
- Remove a perennial crisis point from the first island chain and the potential for its recurring destabilizing impact on Sino-Japanese relations.
- Keep the islands within the U.S. alliance structure and security umbrella.
Proceedings, November 2012
A simmering dispute over some uninhabited islands south of Japan offers insight into the way domestic politics can drive foreign policy—perhaps all the way to war—in both China and Japan.
The islands in question, which the Chinese call the Diaoyus and the Japanese the Senkakus, have little or no intrinsic value, but the Chinese view is that enforcing a variety of claims to islands in the South China Sea is worthwhile, because it also reinforces the claim that the sea, which covers valuable resources, is Chinese territory. That other countries, such as Vietnam and Malaysia, also claim some of these islands has long made the South China Sea a potential flashpoint. In the current case, however, the driving force in both countries seems to be domestic.
Navy Diver assigned to Mobile Diving and Salvage Unit (MDSU) 2, Company 4, operates a suction dredge system during an underwater recovery operation in search of a missing service member on 6 October in the Mediterranean Sea. U.S. Navy
The ruling Chinese Communist Party has long used World War II as a way of rallying public support. For China, the key facts of that conflict were Japanese aggression followed by gross atrocities such as the rape of Nanking. The Communist Party claims that it, rather than the rival Nationalists, offered effective opposition to the Japanese. Whatever the reality, to many in China the important point is that the party has created a China that never again need fear such an attack. Japan has never effectively apologized for its aggression in the way that Germany did after World War II. As a consequence, few in China (or, for that matter, in Korea) have forgiven the Japanese. Some of the consequences may not be obvious to Westerners. For example, Taiwan, which Japan acquired in 1895, was treated rather well within the Japanese Empire: many Taiwanese have positive views of the Japanese. Some, perhaps many, mainland Chinese consider Taiwanese leaders tainted by such attitudes. It happens that in the dispute over the islands, the Taiwanese stand with their brethren on the mainland, the claim for the islands first having been made by the Nationalists (who took refuge in Taiwan when they were defeated on the mainland) in 1947.
China is building tandem maritime forces, blurring the line between military and civilian maritime missions.
The new People’s Liberation Army Navy (PLAN) aircraft carrier, Liaoning, further expansion of the nuclear submarine force, and new warships such as the 052D Luyang III-class destroyer, are all indicators of China’s emphasis on maritime modernization. However, China’s maritime strategy consists of more than just PLAN modernization efforts: It’s building two maritime forces with more than 700 surface ships by 2020. China’s Maritime Surveillance (CMS) agency, under direction from the State Oceanic Administration (SOA), serves a critical role in further developing China’s maritime strategy.
The CMS is unlike any civilian government entity in the United States. CMS falls under the SOA for resource allocations and management purposes. If compared with the United States, the SOA would probably be similar to combining the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration, the U.S. Coast Guard and a host of intelligence agencies. While the U.S. equivalents are controlled by three different cabinet level positions (Department of Commerce, Department of Homeland Security and the Director of National Intelligence); SOA is controlled by only one cabinet-level equivalent, the Ministry of Land and Resources.
Adm. Wu Shengli, PLAN Commander (Left) and Liu Cigui, SOA Director (Right) in Feburary, SOA photo
Though the SOA has several missions and controls more than 20 different agencies, it has two primary functions: protection of national sovereignty and as political component of the Party. CMS over the past several years has been tasked with the protection of national sovereignty issues throughout the South China and East China Seas. There are several examples of that including the 2009 USNS Impeccable incident, the planting of a Chinese flag on the seabed floor by a submersible in 2010, CMS ships cutting the cables of Vietnamese ships conducting exploration and seismic surveys in 2011, and the recent dispute in the Scarborough Shoals between China and Vietnam. In addition, CMS ships also have the primary role in patrolling the waters near the Senkaku or Daioyu Islands. These activities suggest China has developed a “first use policy” where CMS ships serve as the front line of protection and the PLAN may serve as the defender of national sovereignty.
In September a major diplomatic crisis erupted between China and Japan over a group of five uninhabited islets and three barren rocks located 120 nautical miles northeast of Taiwan, 200 nautical miles southeast of Okinawa and 200 nautical miles east of China. Collectively these islets and rocks are known as the Senkaku islands in Japanese and the Diaoyutai in Chinese. Japan, China and Taiwan each claim sovereignty over the Senkakus/Diaoyutai.
Japan acquired the Senkaku Islands in 1895 after defeating China in the First Sino-Japanese War. Under the terms of the Treaty of Shimonoseki, China transferred sovereignty over both Taiwan and the Senkakus to Japan. The Senkakus came under U.S. control when it occupied Japan and Okinawa in 1945 at the end of World War II. In 1972 the U.S. returned Okinawa and the Senkakus to Japan. The Senkakus are presently administered as part of Okinawa prefecture.
View Senkaku Islands in a larger map
In 1969 a survey conducted under the auspices of the United Nations determined that there were potentially large oil and gas deposits in the seabed surrounding the Senkakus. According to Japanese sources, the discovery of hydrocarbons was the catalyst that reignited Chinese claims to the Diaoyutai. Both Taiwan and China claim sovereignty based on Ming Dynasty documents listing the Diaoyutai as prized possessions of the Chinese emperor.
In September 1972 China and Japan normalized diplomatic relations. Six years later both sides signed a bilateral fishing agreement and reached an understanding to set aside their dispute over the Senkakus/Diaoyutai as a matter for future generations to decide. In 2008 China and Japan agreed to jointly explore for oil in waters off the Senkakus; but that undertaking was never implemented.