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Cover Stories Series 2013> Monitoring East China Sea Airspace> Archive
UPDATED: January 21, 2013 NO. 4 JANUARY 24, 2013
The Quarrel Continues
Abe administration goes astray over island dispute with China
By Yu Lintao

Recently, Sanae Takaichi, head of the powerful policy research council of Japan's ruling Liberal Democratic Party, said Abe should issue a statement that backtracks on some of Japan's previous apologies for wartime actions and "protects the honor and pride" of the nation. So far, the Japanese Government hasn't officially apologized for forcing sexual slaves from Asian countries to serve in Japan's frontline military brothels during World War II.

"One of the major determining factors in international relations is national interest. There is no country that is willing to make an enemy of China within the Asia-Pacific region or even around the world. Although taking advantage of the disputes China has with some other countries may allow Japan to alienate a few countries from China, it is impossible to force them to antagonize China," Jia said to Beijing Review.

Heightened tensions

Besides the hasty foreign visits, the Japanese military has been maneuvering frequently since the inauguration of the new cabinet. Japan's Self-Defense Forces have carried out an island defense drill and a five-day joint military exercise with the U.S. Air Force in the East China Sea. In the meantime, Japan is expected to increase defense spending for the first time in 11 years. The extra cash will be used to increase the number of military personnel and upgrade equipment.

"Japan's frequent military drills aim in one sense to deter China, but mostly intend to show the Japanese public its hard-line attitude toward the island dispute. Tokyo also wants to create an impression to the outside world that Washington would join hands with it to respond to China over the island dispute. But deterrence is of little practical significance for China," said Jia.

However, real dangers still pose a threat. Chinese and Japanese military planes shadowed each other in the vicinity of the Diaoyu Islands on January 10. A statement from China's Ministry of National Defense said two Japanese F-15 fighters closely followed a Chinese Y-8 military transport aircraft when it was on a regular patrol in airspace off China's east coast. At the same time, a Japanese reconnaissance aircraft was also operating in that area. In response, China scrambled two J-10 fighters to conduct verification and monitoring.

"The incident highlighted the lingering potential danger for friction between the two neighbors," said Zhang Zhaozhong, a professor with the National Defense University of the People's Liberation Army.

Zhang said sending warplanes to safeguard China's sovereignty over the Diaoyu Islands doesn't mean China wants to solve the island dispute through open conflict.

"Every step of China has been a response to Japan's actions. It is simply self-defense, but shows that if Japan resorts to using force, China will certainly fight back," Zhang said.

Liu of Tsinghua University said the Diaoyu Islands issue is a persistent territorial dispute between China and Japan. To avoid the escalation of the current situation, the two sides should find a way to begin diplomatic negotiations. Both countries must engage in crisis management over the dispute.

Recent tensions over the Diaoyu Islands in the East China Sea flared up in September 2012, when the Japanese Government "purchased" some of the islands from their Japanese "owner," even though the islands appeared on China's official maps several centuries ago.

"There is no reason for Tokyo to refuse negotiations with China on the issue," Liu said.

During a press conference days before his first overseas tour, however, Abe reiterated his stance over the Diaoyu Islands issue, saying the issue is "not negotiable."

Jia of the CIIS said the tough stance of Abe could only harm the mutual trust between the two neighbors and make an eventual settlement of the dispute more difficult to attain. China wishes to improve relations with Japan, but it will not bow to unfair compromises or allow Japan to damage its core interests.

While Abe started his ASEAN tour, former Japanese Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama paid a four-day visit to China. Hatoyama held talks with Chinese officials and visited the Memorial Hall of the Victims in the Nanjing Massacre, in which Japanese forces killed an estimated 300,000 Chinese people following their December 1937 conquest of Nanjing, then capital of China. Analysts hope that the former Japanese leader would help build a communication channel amid tensions over the Diaoyu Islands.

"Hatoyama cannot represent Abe, but he can represent the views of many Japanese people. The visit could exert a degree of influence in Japan," Jia said.

Email us at: yulintao@bjreview.com

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