Lending clarity to the China-Japan dispute

Sep 19 2012, 03:36 IST
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SummaryChina is in the news once again, for rowdy anti-Japanese protests raging in as many as 50 Chinese cities.

a more nuanced understanding, not stark black-and-white, as either party contend. Hara traces the dispute to the complex post-war San Francisco Peace Treaty (1951) that came to dictate Japan in the post-war period. Hara says that simply understood, the heart of the dispute is whether Senkaku/Diaoyu is part of Japan’s Okinawa prefecture or whether it should have been renounced under the San Francisco Peace Treaty as part of Taiwan.

Hara notes that Senkaku (and Okinawa) were placed under US control under Article 3 of the peace treaty. The US relinquished its administrative rights over Senkaku in 1972, but despite “reversion” remained stationed in Okinawa. Japan’s residual sovereignty over Senkaku/Diaoyu was recognised by successive Presidents—Eisenhower, Kennedy and Johnson. But Nixon made a departure.

Nixon famously charted “ping-pong” diplomacy (beginning with the exchange of ping pong teams between China and America in 1972, aimed at normalisation of relations). As Sino-American relations began to thaw, Nixon chose to adopt “no position on sovereignty”. US presence continued in Okinawa, with Nixon playing both sides under “defence of Japan” and “defence from Japan”.

China and Japan normalised relations in 1972. But there have been notable flashpoints such as in 1978, the year the Treaty of Peace and Friendship was signed between the two countries. Matters reached a head when 80 Chinese fishing boats suddenly approached the islands. According to Daniel Trietak, associate professor at York University (Canada), Japan “unequivocally established control over the islands” despite the bout of China’s “fish-boat diplomacy”.

Thereafter, the dispute began to pan out with “emergent resource nationalism” playing a card. Despite several flashpoints, much water has flowed under the bridge. In the 40 years of normalisation of relations, Sino-Japanese relations have come to be crafted on the bedrock of economics. Today, China is the single-largest importer of Japanese goods, accounting for 20% of Japan’s total exports, up from 7.7% a decade earlier. Japan accounts for 8% of China’s exports and is China’s fourth-largest trading partner (after the US, EU and ASEAN).

Despite the bridges that have been built, both have infused the current Senkaku/Dioyu dispute with national pride. China’s Premier Wen Jiabao’s statement that China will not budge “half an inch in sovereignty and territorial claims” is being carefully read; while Japan Times (the English daily) has registered that “China lets (its own) press splash Japan protests” implying that China is making this bigger than it is.

In effect, both China’s and Japan’s actions are driven

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