Turbulent times in the East China Seas – after reports of a thaw in relations between Japan and China, the argument surrounding the disputed Senkaku Island Group has once again intensified.
What a difference a week makes. After years of arguments surrounding the hotly-contested Senkaku / Diaoyu Islands, tensions between China and Japan finally looked to be cooling down, as British newspaper The Telegraph reported that the country’s leaders, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and President Xi Jinping had laid the ground for a “historical bilateral meeting” at this year’s Asian-Pacific Summit.
In a move which has been welcomed by the Chinese and Japanese diplomats alike, China’s foreign ministry released a statement earlier this month suggesting that the country had at long last reached a tentative agreement with Japan to increase high-level contact, and “prevent the situation from aggravating through dialogue and consultation” – despite Japan’s refusal to change its stance regarding the sovereignty of the island group.
“The Senkaku islands are an inherent part of Japan and China is claiming them. However, China is starting to show signs of softening,” explained Akira Sato, Japan’s state minister of defence, in a brief interview with The Telegraph. The State Minister for Foreign Affairs, Minoru Kiuchi, added the following: “Stable relations would not only bring important benefits to both countries but have a significant impact on the peace and prosperity of the whole region.”
All hope of stability soon came crashing to the ground this week, however; as news filtered out that three Chinese patrol vessels had entered Japanese territory, heightening tensions in the politically fragile region once again. According to the Japanese Coast Guard, the vessels entered Japanese waters towards the north-west of Kubadzima Island at around 10.00am local time (0100 GMT), before border guards issued the command to “immediately leave Japan’s territorial waters.”
To the Chinese, they are the Diaoyu Islands and to the Japanese they are the Senkaku Islands – a the hotly-contested group of eight small uninhabited islets in the southern end of the Ryukyu Island chain which comprise of a mere 7 square kilometers of land. Whilst the islands themselves are of intrinsic value, much like the equally contested Spratly Islands, research missions revealed them to hold the key to a series of valuable off-shore oil reserves.
The long-simmering dispute over the islands’ sovereignty has been running particularly high since 2010, when two Japanese coast guard vessels and a Chinese fishing boat collided in the disputed waters. Tensions then escalated further in 2012 when Japan nationalized several of the disputed islands by purchasing them from their private owner, triggering protests across the streets of China and provoking Chinese troops to send a fleet of warships into the region.
Whilst so far no active military measures have been taken by either party, there are worries that the rapid escalation of confrontational behavior could ultimately cause a significant incident. One thing’s for certain – last week’s fleeting thoughts of reconciliation have rarely felt quite so far away.
Read more: If you’re interested to find out more about the background behind the Senkaku / Diaoyu dispute, the following Private Island News articles could be of interest: The Story Behind the Disputed Diaoyu/Senkaku Islands (22.09.2012) & Japan Raises 1 Billion Yen To Buy Senkaku Islands 29.05.2012)