The driver behind the current bizarre conflict between Ishihara Shintaro and the central government over who will purchase three Senkaku Islands from their Saitama-based private owner is the March expiration of the latest lease. A private purchase such as the one Ishihara is trying to arrange cannot be done without land surveys. The central government, the current leasee, will not allow Ishihara's survey teams land on the islands, even though the owner wants to sell the islands to the Tokyo Metropolitan District. (E)
The central government's prososal to nationalize the three islands, and indeed the Ishihara-proposed TMD purchase, violate the fundamental principle of Northeast Asian peace: do not try to solve anything. No matter how twisted, frustrating and dangerous a situation, the cardinal rule is "Don't touch it"-- as any attempt to rationalize a situation instigates nationalist explosions.
Michael Auslin has recently published an opinion article on the Senkakus, "Japan Feels a North Asia Squeeze" and Stephen Harner has blogged on the subject "The Japan-China Territorial Dispute is Serious, and Escalating."
Both authors make claims that do not stand up to scrutiny.
Auslin claims that declining U.S. power projection in Northeast Asia has left Japan vulnerable to pressure from China and Russia, and that if Japan should walk back from a hardline stand now, that its neighbors will make even more demands of Japan.
First, the recent visits by the president, now prime minister Dmitry Medvedev to the Northern Territories do not represent an escalation of demands on Japan. Russia has effective control of the Northern Territories and has had it since 1945. What Medvedev's visits have tried to do is whip up a fear of a military reconquest of the Northern Territories by Japan's Self Defense Forces. Making such an absurd claim is a measure of the Putin government's desperation to simultaneously justify Russia's current borders and to bolster an expansive Russian identity.
As for China's putting a squeeze on Japan, it is due to China's expanding military reach, which no one, not even the Obama Administration and its pivot to East Asia, can do anything about. While China's PLA Navy is not directly involved in the current provocative actions in and around the Senkakus, the PLAN is the big stick looming behind the increasingly bold tests of the Japan Coast Guard's resolve to halt unapproved fishing in the area and the swings through the contested zone by Chinese fisheries vessels ostensibly keeping tab on the actions of China-based fishermen.
Mr. Harper's post contains the claim that:
Japan seems compelled to force the issue with China, while China would very likely be satisfied to live with the status quo, as long as Japan would acknowledge that it too has a claim on the islands and surrounding area.While the first part of that statement is true -- that the government of Japan feels compelled to force the issue with China, due to the imminent danger of a radical nationalist coming into at least nominal control of the islands (and achieveing the ability, should the procedures of the past be followed, to extort extraordinary rent from the central government at the time of the renewal of the annual lease) -- the remainder of the sentence is poppycock.
First, China is an outlier of the 21st century. It is the only country in the world seeking to reestablish the imperial reach it possessed at the zenith of its power at the beginning of the 19th century. Every one of the rest of the world's imperial powers has receded, even the United States, which despite its messianic missions of the last few years, has no capacity or desire to hold on to the countries its troops have invaded and occupied (one can argue that the expansion of NATO is a soft form of imperialism but since participation in that organization is voluntary the argument does not hold water). That the government of China should be seeking to nail down ownership of the lion's (tiger's?) share of the South China, East China and Yellow Seas, as well as obliterate the ancient semi-independent Uighur khanates and the Tibetan kingdom, demonstrate an anachronistic national purpose, based on a spurious "humiliation" of China from the Opium Wars onward (You want to talk about national humiliation? As the British and the French about the Suez Crisis).
Second, how can Japan admits that China has a claim on the islands and surrounding areas? It would lose all ability to claim legitimate control of the Senkakus. China does not accept Japanese claims on the islands and surrounding areas, for precisely the same reason.
Mi casa es su casa? Not if you want it to remain mi casa for very long.