The controversy over who owns the Senkaku/Diaoyu Islands has been in the spotlight for months, but a recent incident suggests things are truly heating up.
Just five islets and a few rocky outcroppings in the East China Sea – for such small islands, they’ve caused huge problems. Both China and Japan have been waging a heavy political and public relations battle for ownership of this tiny archipelago, known in Japan as the Senkakus, and in China and Taiwan, the Diaoyus.
The fight has mainly taken place through the media and among political circles, but Japan’s decision in September of 2012 to purchase the Senkakus from their private owner was a game-changer. Both countries started to actively send patrol boats to the islands in the autumn, and the potential for the conflict to escalate increased dramatically.
However, a recent article in the Economist has pointed out that tensions, in fact, seemed to be easing prior an event on January 30th – and that there is the now a far realer possibility that the dispute is edging toward a military conflict that, only a short time ago, few would have imagined possible.
According to the article, a Chinese military vessel aimed its “fire control radar” – essentially a sight used to gather information before firing missiles – at a destroyer ship that belonged to Japan’s Maritime Self-Defense Force. Although no arms were fired, China’s actions sent a message that was impossible to ignore.
Japan quickly went on the defensive, calling the action provocative and “extremely regrettable”. Whether the action on the part of the Chinese ship was sanctioned by China’s authorities is unknown – there the always the possibility that it was a rogue move by one individual or group. The country’s leadership has so far been silent on the matter.
Arguably, the incident could not have come at a worse time for the prospect of a peaceful solution. American officials have been in the region urging diplomacy on both sides of the East China Sea, and there were indications that a summit might be held between the new Japanese prime minister Shinzo Abe, and Xi Jinping, who is expected to take over China’s presidency in March.
For the time being, it appears that the diplomatic path has been abandoned, with aggressive statements being issued by each nation on their claim to the islands, and rumours abounding over upcoming military exercises by China.
There is one possible ray of optimism, however; Prime Minister Abe and soon-to-be President Jinping are both new to their positions, and hopefully will not want to begin their tenures with a fight that destabilizes the entire region – and potentially, the world.
Read more about this story: The Economist