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The Senkaku-Diaoyu Dispute
On Monday, Feb. 4, two Chinese government ships entered waters around Tokyo-controlled islands that Beijing claims as its own, the Japanese coastguard said.
Two maritime surveillance boats arrived in the waters around what Japan calls the Senkakus and China calls the Diaoyus.
Previously, the two sides have scrambled fighter jets when Beijing sent air patrols to the archipelago.
Saturday, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe called on Japan’s Self-Defense Forces to defend the islands “at all costs.”
A recent editorial in The Economist outlined the dangers.
“A widely read, if shrill, Beijing newspaper, Global Times, has argued that Japan might not be deterred and ‘we need to prepare for the worst.’ Japan, it said, had become the ‘vanguard’ of an American strategy to ‘contain China.’ The implication was that China should also be ready to take on America, which has made clear that its security treaty with Japan covers the disputed islets.
“The dangers of combat are rarely spelt out to Chinese audiences. China would widely be seen as the provocateur. Japan is its second-largest trading partner and one of its biggest foreign investors. The knock-on effects would include an escalation of unease about China around the region. Other countries with territorial disputes with it, such as India, Vietnam and the Philippines, would look even more keenly towards America for support.
“The risk that the dispute might cause a serious rift with America must haunt some of China’s diplomats. Many of them believe that this would thwart China’s ambition to become a respected global power. So calmer voices may yet prevail. A botched military engagement could inflame nationalist sentiment at home and turn it against the party for its perceived incompetence. For all their rapid acquisition of sophisticated hardware in recent years, the Chinese armed forces lack the combat experience that might give them confidence in their ability to prevail. As for projecting force, the islands lie closer to Japan (as well as to Taiwan, which also claims them) than to the Chinese mainland.
“But China’s foreign-policy behavior has become more unpredictable of late. Many of its officials believe that America has been weakened by the global financial crisis and debilitating wars, even as China has grown stronger. Toughness abroad might also give Mr. Xi [incoming President Xi Jinping], a nationalist, some cover for a more risk-taking approach to handling problems at home. In recent weeks there have been a few signs that he might be a bit more open-minded than his predecessors. A recent crisis involving a strike by journalists at a popular and relatively liberal newspaper was resolved without obvious repercussions for the journalists involved. As dense smog this week choked Beijing and several other cities, China’s press has had unusually free rein to complain about air pollution.
“The firmness of Mr. Xi’s grip on policymaking is hard to divine. It will not be clear for some weeks who, if anyone, will have day-to-day control over foreign policy in the decision-making standing committee of the party’s Politburo, which for the past decade has lacked a dedicated foreign-policy handler. It is also possible that rising tensions with Japan reflect China’s leaders’ distraction by struggles relating to the succession. Lacking clear direction, bureaucracies may be trying to look tough.”
Hot Spots will return sporadically from here on...now that I’m doing the Nightly Review videos (accessible through home page). Many of the above kinds of issues are covered during those broadcasts.