Dispute over Senkaku/Diaoyu Islands flares . . .
Japan’s Defense Minister on Thursday sounded the alarm over recent increases in Chinese activities at sea near the disputed Senkaku/Diaoyu Islands, saying that such activities represent a unilateral move to change the status quo. The Senkaku (in Japanese) or Diaoyu (in Mandarin) Islands are a group of uninhabited islands in the East China Sea claimed by Japan, China, and Taiwan that have reemerged as a sticking point in Japan-China relations. Earlier this week, China’s Natural Resources Ministry announced new names for 50 seabed areas in the disputed waters, a retaliatory move after a Japanese city renamed the administrative area covering the controversial islands. President Tsai Ing-wen of Taiwan also reiterated her government’s claim over the islands but cautioned against unilateral destabilizing moves.
Subnational manoeuvres under international limelight . . .
Worries of increased regional tension began in early June when the Japanese city of Ishigaki announced plans to change the administrative designation of the area covering the islands, claiming they fall under its jurisdiction. The resolution was passed by city council on Monday, eliciting protests from both Chinese and Taiwanese diplomats. Ishigaki’s move isn’t the first time actions by Japanese officials at subnational levels have raised international tension. In 2012, Tokyo’s then-governor proposed purchasing the islands from their private owners, prompting the Japanese government to preempt the move by nationalizing the islands. This event was a significant setback in Japan-China relations with reverberations persisting today.
Recent spats cool bilateral relations . . .
Recent territorial disputes are the latest in a string of diplomatic disagreements between Japan and China that have dampened hopes for improved relations between the two Asian powers. In the early days of COVID-19, Japanese cities and organizations trended on Chinese social media for gestures of goodwill, such as mask donations. Bilateral relations seemed likely to improve further with Xi Jinping’s much-anticipated state visit in April, the first by a Chinese president since 2008. However, the visit has been postponed indefinitely over coronavirus concerns, and Japan has sparred with China over multiple issues such as including Taiwan in the World Health Organization meetings and Hong Kong’s National Security Law. Prospects of improved relations now seem grim.
- The Asahi Shimbun: Xi state visit to Japan this year fading fast, no prospect in sight
- The Economist: A supposed detente between Japan and China is already fading
- South China Morning Post: Japan monitoring China’s ‘alarming’ activities at sea, border with India and in Hong Kong