After a violent India-China border dispute, another dispute looks imminent between China and Japan in the East China Sea over the disputed islands.
The territorial dispute over a group of uninhabited islands that fall in the East China Sea known as the Senkaku Islands in Japan and the Diaoyu in China has been brewing for decades. In the past week, Japanese coastguards announced that Chinese government ships had been spotted in the waters near the Senakaku/Diaoyu Islands every day since mid-April.
Both Japan and China lay historical claim over the archipelago that includes five uninhabited islands and three barren rocks, making a total area of not more than 5kilometres square. The area surrounding the islands, however, is a rich fishing ground and is believed to hold oil and other valuable resources like natural gas deposits.
According to the Council on Foreign Relations (CFR), the islands “have potential oil and natural gas reserves, are near prominent shipping routes, and are surrounded by rich fishing areas.”
China-Japan Conflict Over Islands
During a press conference on Wednesday, Japanese Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga firmly said that “The Senkaku Islands are under our control and are unquestionably our territory, historically and under international law.” “We think it is extremely serious [matter] that these activities continue,” he added. “We will respond firmly and calmly to the Chinese side.”
The official also informed that the Japanese government had lodged a protest with Chinese diplomats over the incident.
In a contrasting perspective, the statement by China’s Foreign Ministry said that “The Diaoyu Island and its affiliated islands are an inherent part of China’s territory, and it is our inherent right to carry out patrols and law enforcement activities in these waters.”
Communist Party of China’s media mouth-piece, The Global Times wrote that the “Japanese conservatives disrupt recovering China-Japan ties by hyping Diaoyu Islands dispute.”
China vs Japan: Military Scenario
The Asia Maritime Transparency Initiative (AMTI) website clearly says that “If Chinese fishing crews, coast guardsmen, or military members landed on the Senkakus, then the Japan Coast Guard would no doubt seek to remove them in a law enforcement action.”
Reportedly, in the past weeks, Japan has established new military bases near the disputed archipelago to protect the islands and the surrounding region.
However, the AMTI website also mentions – “But given that China does not recognize Japan’s claims, it is certainly possible that Beijing could see this as an escalation, which might result in a substantial military response from China.”
Meanwhile, experts speculate that if China takes any military action against Japan, the United States would have to make to come out in open in support of Japan. Since the US holds a mutual defence treaty with Japan, it becomes obligatory for the US to defend Japan from attackers.
William Choong, a senior fellow at the ISEAS-Yusof Ishak Institute in Singapore writes for the Interpreter – “The question is not whether China, now the target of a full-court press by America, would want to challenge Japan over the islands. The question is when, and how? This is what keeps Japanese (and American) policymakers awake at night,”