Published on Author wenxiang

Chinese and Japanese navies have engaged in yet another case of saber-rattling over the Diaoyu/Senkaku islands. Although it is unlikely that the issue will escalate further in the near future, the ambiguous political climate and lack of resolve to truly resolve the dispute has led to a further straining of relationships between the two nations. In the face of an uncertain economic and political climate, both nations have clung to the dispute as a means of redirecting internal pressures. The Chinese Communist Party is struggling to redefine itself in the wake of a political transition even as economic development — its prime claim to legitimacy — has slowed. In Japan, the Liberal Democratic Party has managed to regain control over the office of the Prime Minister in the wake of a disastrous period in Japanese politics: as the 7th Prime Minister in as many years, Abe will likely welcome any external distraction from his domestic reforms.

The Diaoyu/Senkaku dispute originates from contradicting definitions of national boundaries. Although the Japanese government received stewardship over the islands in the power transition after the United States ended its postwar occupation of Japan, the ambiguity present in the transition opened up Chinese claims of ownership through geography, as the island chain lies within the boundaries defined through the Chinese continental shelf.

Sino-Japanese relations have remained in a state of strained cordiality, even before the advent of the Diaoyu/Senkaku issue. The atrocities committed by the Japanese military during the Second World War remain within living memory, exacerbated by continual Japanese denial of said atrocities.

One Response to Diaoyu/Senkaku

  1. There’s a very extensive discussion of this topic on the NBR Japan Forum that includes former diplomats, international relations experts and others. For archives, go here.
    As an example, here is a post from February 27th 2013:

    If I may add on the posting below by Paul building up on the points raised by Prof Duus and Richard Katz – the question of nationalism, revisionism, and different/competing narratives across East Asia is very salient indeed. And it seems to me that it operates in the most unsuspected ways.

    In my experience teaching East Asian security and international history at the postgraduate level to students from across East Asia, including a number of Chinese, Japanese, Koreans, Taiwanese, among others, I noticed that consistently there is a major gap between how Chinese students approach the understanding of the 19th and 20th century international history and security affairs in East Asia and other students from the region. This is not to say that they are less knowledgeable – absolutely not. Nor that the other students have a ‘right’ way to understand history. Absolutely not. We are talking about a pool of excellent students across the board – and as a teacher I couldn’t be any more rewarded from my interactions with all of them. The difference I felt was in the fact that there seemed to be a core ‘ideological’ take at history – or as others have called it, a ‘patriotic’ take at education – that left little room to accept that a given period, or event, might have a different explanation.

    In particular, in class, this has in the majority of the cases meant that Chinese students initially had a bit of a shock when they realised that their understanding of an event or an issue was quite different from that of other students, say for example of the Korean War, the territorial disputes in the East China Sea, or the US-Japan alliance – to mention just a couple of more ‘controversial’ themes . This initial shock was most of the times followed by a very defensive attitude about their views of these events/issues. Eventually, a small group came to feel comfortable with the possibility of alternative explanations and class debates were most interesting.

    Now, let me make it clear – I’m not making a point about whether one should embrace one vision of history as opposed to another. What I found striking in my experience was that consistently, in discussions on matters of foreign and security policy across a period of a little more than a century, Chinese students were – among those coming from Japan, South Korea, Taiwan and mainland China-, those with the greatest difficulty to accept the idea of alternative views to their own. Eventually, regular exposure to an international environment made of students from across the world favoured the development of a higher degree of flexibility in this respect.

    In this respect, I share Paul’s concern as to what the impact will be of ‘patriotic’ education on the next generation of leaders. As I said, in my own little experience, the key question is the limits that a particular educational pathway seems to impose on the intellectual flexibility of the person. For these reasons, I also share the feeling underpinning the point made earlier by Peter Duus that leaves the question open as to the assumptions we usually have in regards of shared understanding, or the ability to understand the other person’s point of view, as basic requirements for good diplomatic and political interactions, particularly in the case of Sino-Japanese relations.

    Alessio P.