Beijing Forces New Round in Senkaku Feud

Monday, September 27, 2010


Tokyo -- The Chinese government's unwillingness to pocket its victory and go home signals that the Japan-China feud is far from concluded.

Beijing had vociferously demanded the release of trawler captain Zhan Qixiong ever since his arrest by the Japan Coast Guard on September 7th. At what is likely to be considerable cost to their own political positions, Prime Minister Naoto Kan and Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshito Sengoku arranged that release on Friday.

Unexpectedly, however, Beijing did not reciprocate Tokyo's move to defuse the crisis, and instead moved on to new demands using the same angry tone.

A Chinese Foreign Ministry statement released on Saturday argued that Japan's arrest of the captain "seriously violated China's territorial sovereignty and the human rights of the Chinese nationals."

"China has indisputable sovereignty over these islands. Japan's detention and investigation of the Chinese fishermen and fishing boat and all forms of its related judicial measures are illegal and invalid. Japan must offer China its apology and compensation for this incident," the statement added.

Beijing's decision to spurn Tokyo's positive gesture forced the Kan administration - which after its initial hard line started looking for a way out of the crisis - to guard its own right flank and begin to respond in kind.

By Saturday evening this tougher approach was already in evidence as the Japanese Foreign Ministry finally piped up on the Senkaku crisis.

"There is no doubt," the Foreign Ministry statement began, "that the Senkaku Islands are clearly an inherent territory of Japan, in light of historical facts and based upon international law. Indeed, the Senkaku Islands are now under the valid control of Japan. There exists no issue of territorial sovereignty to be resolved concerning the Senkaku Islands."

The official statement then addressed Beijing as follows: "The demand by the Chinese side for apology and compensation is completely groundless and is utterly unacceptable for Japan."

Today, it was Tokyo's turn to up the ante: Chief Cabinet Secretary Sengoku told a press conference this morning that the government of Japan would demand payment for the damages done to the two Coast Guard vessels by Captain Zhan's trawler.

In the evening, Sengoku followed up by demanding that two Chinese patrol boats withdraw from an area of the East China Sea near waters that Japan claims as its own.

Sengoku added, "the ball is in China's court."

Moreover, Foreign Minister Seiji Maehara summoned the Chinese ambassador today to demand that Japanese officials be given regular access to the four Japanese businessmen detained last week in Hebei Province.

The energetic performance by the Japanese government today is obviously a response to the heavy criticism from Japanese conservatives, who argue that the Kan administration cannot be trusted to defend the national interests in the face of Chinese intimidation.

This criticism has come not only from the LDP and other conservative political groupings, but from within the ruling DPJ as well.

Dozens of DPJ backbenchers led by conservative lawmaker Jin Matsubara issued a statement today protesting the fact that diplomatic considerations were allowed to shape the judicial decision to release the Chinese captain, and the called for SDF troops to be permanently based on the Senkaku Islands.

In sum, Beijing's uncompromising stance has energized Japanese conservatives and forced the more liberal DPJ leaders into a corner in which they will be required to respond with tough measures for a while.

All of this guarantees that the Japan-China feud is not over; it is just entering a new round.

The most troubling aspect of this fact is that it opens the door to additional unplanned clashes in the waters near the Senkaku Islands, meaning that the most dangerous phases in the dispute may lie ahead.

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