Image from Anti-Japanese protests in September.
The Diaoyu/Senkaku island conflict has returned to the headlines this week, as both China and Japan have engaged in some seriously passive agression over the contested islands. Don’t worry, Taiwan is there too! Everyone’s favorite characters have once again joined in to destabilize the region, because peace is boring and uninhabited islands are what serious international relations are all about.
Early in the week, China released its annual strategic military goals. The document doesn’t dance around the issue and states in its first chapter:
On the issues concerning China’s territorial sovereignty and maritime rights and interests, some neighboring countries are taking actions that complicate or exacerbate the situation, and Japan is making trouble over the issue of the Diaoyu Islands.
Off to a good start! Taiwan followed the PRC’s lead, and soon commenced its largest military drills in half a decade. President Ma kicked off the drills when he “called for the peaceful resolution of maritime disputes, including that surrounding the Diaoyu islands.” Part of this “peaceful resolution” is apparently to mobilize thousands of troops for massive wargames.
Not to be left out of the pettiness, several of Japan’s major leaders soon went to worship Class A war criminals at the Yasukuni Shrine, its annual middle-finger PR event to East Asia. Japanese politician’s “unofficial” visits to the shrine are, according to Xinhua, “[attempts] to deny the history of Japanese militarist aggression.”
To show its distaste for all things Japanese, Beijing announced on April 22 that it has decided to refuse Japanese aid to earthquake-stricken Sichuan. This profound thick-headedness is especially notable due to the hesitance shown by many (especially Hong Kongers) to donate at all. If Japan is willing to dump money on rampantly corrupt local officials, one would think China to be kind enough to oblige them.
The important news is the most recent. On April 22, a group of Japanese nationalists decided that all of this foreplay was enough, and they should just get on with it. According to Reuters:
A flotilla of boats carrying more than 80 Japanese nationalists arrived on Tuesday in waters near disputed islands at the centre of tensions between China and Japan. The boats were shadowed by at least 10 Japanese Coast Guard vessels, while three Chinese government surveillance ships moved near the islands, according to the JCG. […]
“This is all about asserting our ownership of the islands, going there to conduct a fishing survey to prove that Japanese fishermen can indeed make a living there,” said group leader Satoru Mizushima.
Japan’s coastguard confirmed the vessels had entered waters near the East China Sea island chain around 8am [on the 23rd]. […]
The flotilla of 10 boats carrying about 80 activists from the nationalist Ganbare Nippon (“Stand Firm, Japan”) group sailed into waters around the islets early on Tuesday but then began to withdraw from the area on the orders of Japanese Coast Guard patrol ships, because Chinese government surveillance ships were nearby.
These remote, scraggly, uninhabited piles of rock have caused the China/Japan relationship (never exactly a picnic) to border on malicious. Shrines have been visited, military drills have been run. Nationalist fishermen have prodded Chinese surveillance ships. So far, this is still just foreplay. Whether either party has the good sense to zip up and leave while the can, remains to be seen. If they decide to go through with it, we’ll all be feeling screwed.