Senkaku-Diaoyu Islands Dispute (30th Jun 2020)
Senkaku-Diaoyu Islands Dispute
Recently, there has been a flare-up in the Senkaku island region. The Japanese government had protested to China regarding a set of names recently assigned by Beijing to seabed zones in the East China Sea, including the Senkaku/Diaoyu islands.
- Japan and China claim the uninhabited islands, known as the Senkaku in Japan and Tiaoyu in China, as their own, but Japan has administered them since 1972.
- The Senkaku/Diaoyu Islands were formally claimed by Japan in 1895.
- After Japan’s defeat in World War II, the island chain was controlled by the US until 1971 before its return. Since then, Japan has administered the island chains.
- China began to reassert claims over the Senkaku/Diaoyu Islands in the 1970s, citing historic rights to the area. However, Japan does not recognize Chinese claims.
Summary of the Debate
- The Senkaku Islands are composed of five islands – Uotsurijima Island, Taishojima Island, Kubajima Island, Kitakojima Island, and Minamikojima Island – and three rocks – Okinokita-iwa Rock, Okinominami-iwa Rock, and Tobise-iwa Rock.
- The Islands are located in the East China Sea about 170 km northwest of Ishigakijima Island, and they are also about 170 km from Taiwan, though they are 330 km from the Chinese mainland.
- If the Japanese fishermen use the fishing boat from Ishigakijima Island, it takes 5 to 7 hours. If the Chinese government dispatches their patrol vessels from mainland China, it takes two days.
- Senkaku is part of the Ryukyu chain for all political and practical purposes. These islands were maintained by U.S.A after World War II and before WWII by Japan.
- Before WWII, the island was owned by a private Japanese family, which tried to do fisheries there.
- In 2012, islands were acquired by the Japanese government and made part of Okinawa prefecture.
Why China is claiming over the Senkaku islands?
- There is a sovereignty claim and the nationalism factor over the disputes on these islands. The nationalism of both countries is clashing.
- Today China becomes a powerful nation and its maritime ambitions have increased substantially. It wants its hegemony all over its backyard, which would prove a gateway to its hegemony in the global level. It has eyes on Spratly and Parcel Islands and Ladakh too.
- Energy factor: The United Nations Economic Commission for Asia and the Far East pointed out in 1969 that the region between Taiwan and Japan ‘appears to have great promise as a future oil province of the world’. Japan and China are among the world’s top importers of fossil fuels.
- Food and Fisheries Aspect: The areas around these islands have abundant fishing resources. With increasing food consumption, the fisheries aspect has become important for China to meet its demand.
- Historical Dimension: There is also a domestic criticism of Japan in China. There are different schools of thought within China which suggest that they need to address Japan because Japan was the First country to defeat China in 1894. So, there is a historical rivalry too.
- Treaty of Shimonoseki (1895): China is claiming that Senkaku Island too (with Formosa) was returned back after the treaty of Shimonoseki. China and Taiwan tends to believe that Senkaku are part of the Formosa deal. While Americans and Japanese are very clear that these are part of the Ryukyu chain.
- The former president of the U.S.A, Obama, had given in written that Senkaku is part of the military alliance between the U.S.A and Japan. But the present trump administration is quite on the issue.
- To some extent from the Chinese perspective, there is the U.S.A japan alliance as a constraining factor.
- At the present situation, it does not look like U.S.A will directly get involved in the crisis. The US has a stance that if it becomes high-intensity conflict then that security commitment will be kicked in, if it remains a low-level activity between coast guards of China and Japan then it will not take action.
- To some extent, Americans are apprehensive that China may enter the pacific, which is a direct threat to US and in this condition, they will try to save their maritime boundaries instead of helping Vietnamese, Japanese, and the Philippines.
- Japanese know the strategy of Chinese and in a quick move, they renamed the parts of Senkaku Island.
- Japanese has left the idea of expanding its military power since decades but now it’s increasing its power again.
- It has disputes with Russia over the Kurile Islands but Russia never threatens Japan like China. China’s aggression in the region is a real threat to Japan.
- Japanese are finding it difficult to work with a China which does not want to abide by the rules. China is challenging Japan on seas and air. It is for the Japanese to decide how far they can go to defend their interests.
- Japanese understand Chinese geopolitics well and is playing the waiting game here. Japan now needs new tactics-strategy if they want to hold on Senkaku.
- Japan, India, and other East Asian nations need to get together on their sovereignty related issue. China is a big elephant in the room and controlling it alone by a single power is not easy.
Main points made by Guests
1. Gurjit Singh, Former Ambassador:
2. Commander Abhijit Singh (Retd.), Head, Maritime Policy Initiative, ORF :
3. Srikanth Kondapalli, Professor, Center For East Asian Studies, JNU: