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China-Japan Island Row in Dangerous Waters

Apr 15 , 2013
  • Feng Zhaokui

    Honorary Academician, Chinese Academy of Social Sciences

Nikkei recently published the article “Verifying Nationalization of the Senkaku Islands“, analyzing Shintaro Ishihara’s announcement in Washington of Tokyo’s intention to “buy the Senkaku Islands” and then “nationalize” the Diaoyu Islands by the Noda cabinet. According to the article, Ishihara repeatedly clamored for war. He told Noda that Tokyo’s purchase plan would be upheld “even if there would be war with China“. He argued for the construction of a ship haven in the Diaoyu Islands “without hesitation even over a war with China” so as to consolidate Japan’s actual control. “Japan will win a war of conventional weapons,” he said. “It is important to demonstrate a will to defend the islands even by shedding blood. Territory is more important than economy.”

An important reason for Ishihara’s confidence in Japan winning a war with China came from an analysis by American experts saying that “the Japan Self-Defense Forces are superior to the PLA in terms of air and sea combat effectiveness and hence Japan will win if a conventional war is fought.”

The article revealed that Ishihara’s purchase was in no way a whim but rather a planned and strategically implemented plot. In November 2012, Takashi Okada, staff reporter of Kyodo News, published a new book, Question of the Senkaku Islands: Magic of Territorial Nationalism. In it, he argues that the row over Diaoyu Islands has been a plot by Shintaro Ishihara to seek a stage for adversarial nationalism, and that the ultimate political objective is to overthrow the post-World War II order established by the US and the UN after the Tokyo Trial and to overthrow Japan’s peace constitution. With that objective in mind and the realization that directly targeting the US would be self-destructive, Ishihara has been very smart in his plan. The first step is to challenge China by including Daiyu Islands in the scope of defense assistance identified by the Security Treaty between the US and Japan. When China responds with actions over the Diaoyu Islands, Japan will revise its constitution and re-arm itself on the ground of national calamity. Then, if war over Diaoyu Islands continues, the US will definitely be involved. The war will be a lose-lose situation for China and the US, and an opportunity for Japan to free itself from the US and reinvigorate the Great Japanese Empire.

Ishihara has long been called the “anti-three man” (anti-US, anti-China and anti-government) and the standard bearer of the “gangs from pre- and during WWII.” The latter term refers to the remaining Japanese militarists who invaded Asian countries and launched the Pacific War by attacking Pearl Harbor in 1941. It is thus natural for Ishihara to have sinister motives to set a trap for not only China, but also the US. There are also personal reasons for Ishihara to hate the US. His father worked for a Japanese shipping company. Under harsh US attacks almost all the Japanese ships, both military and civilian, sank. Gone were the happy days of his family. Ishihara once hoped that Japan would win WWII and the whole Pacific would be Japanese inland sea. His dream was now broken. Now, however, Ishihara has designed an indirect approach to save the empire: not to hit the US directly but to guide China and the US to confrontation so that the weakening of both will be an opportunity for Japan’s military rise again. Nonetheless, people have reason not to believe neither China nor the US will give Japan this opportunity or rush into Ishihara’s trap.

Even in Japan, voices of reason over Sino-Japanese relations and the Diaoyu Islands are now increasing, and with good momentum. For example, former Prime Minister Tomiichi Murayama visited China and brought back the Chinese hope for a “peaceful resolution” of the islands dispute. Famous scholars such as Susumu Yabuki and Tadayoshi Murata published articles to restore the historical truth of the Diaoyu Islands question. Not long ago, an editorial of the Tokyo Shimbun made it clear that “the proposition that territorial dispute does not exist is not convincing internationally” and that Japan should “admit the existence of diplomatic disputes”.

The above-mentioned article in Nikkei provided a detailed description of Ishihara’s purchase plot, and specifically mentioned his clamors for war, obviously sending a reminder that kind-hearted people should be on guard for provocative acts by Ishihara, and prevent the dispute from slipping into war. In both countries, more and more people of vision believe that the existence of disputes should be the very reason for enhanced people-to-people and even official exchanges. It is the view of this author that more exchanges will be a powerful means to reveal the motives of the vandals of the Sino-Japanese relationship.

This year marks the 35th anniversary of the Treaty of Peace and Friendship between China and Japan. We should make good use of this opportunity to make up for the compromised celebrations of the 40th anniversary of resuming diplomatic relations last year. As is known to all, China has all along insisted to peacefully resolve the question of Diaoyu Islands through negotiation. Ishihara’s dream of war will never come true.

Feng Zhaokui is an honorary academician of the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences.

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