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Geopolitics

Japan V. China: The Kabuki Theater Standoff Over Senkaku Islands

Analysis: China and Japan have little room for compromise as tensions rise over the disputed Senkaku islands. Still, it is part of a broader dance between the region's two biggest powers that is short-wired -- at least for now -- to try and avoid

A montage created with a section of a 1969 map of the Senkaku Islands (PRC/BH)
A montage created with a section of a 1969 map of the Senkaku Islands (PRC/BH)
Tao Duan Fan

BEIJING - For two days, there was rampant speculation across Asia about whether Uichiro Niwa, Japan's 
Ambassador to China, would return to Beijing. But after his sudden "temporary recall" on 
July 15 to discuss the dispute over the Senkaku Islands (also known as the Diaoyu Islands
in China), Niwa calmly came back to the Chinese capital the next day.

Judging from Japan's official attitude, it looks like the 
tension between China and Japan won't escalate. At least for now. Nevertheless, rumors about Ambassador Niwa's 
possible dismissal continue to circulate, and we are still short of any sort of détente either.

Niwa is considered by some observers in both China and Japan as coming from the "China
 school". He has on several occasions made remarks about hot issues such as the Senkaku 
dispute in a different tone from that of Japan's right-wing establishment, creating the appearance that there is a difference in policy between his and that of the prime minister, the parliament, as well as the Democratic
 Party.

This all helps to explain the non-stop rumors about him being replaced. And
 though he in fact quickly returned to China after the sudden recall, the Japanese Foreign Ministry "s 
official line is that "An ambassador is required to
 accurately convey the Japanese government's position," which does seem to be a subtle
 way of warning him.

Some worry that if Niwa is ever replaced, the bridge of Sino-
Japanese relations would be broken. This is probably a superfluous concern since the dispute 
over the Senkaku Islands isn't really caused by "inaccurate communication" 
between the two countries, nor by any "misunderstanding" amongst the diplomats.

On the contrary, both countries have always had a clear understanding of each
 other's position. They both understand very well that the
 reason why it's so difficult to reconcile their divergence is because it's a question of principle, not because of any communication missteps.

In
 short, whether or not Niwa is Japan's ambassador to China will make little difference. 
There is no shortage of "China school" adherents in Japan's diplomatic corps. It's just 
that Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda is forced to select someone from his own
 party, restricting the number of qualified candidates.

Up to now, both China and Japan have made it clear that Senkaku 
Island's sovereignty is a fundamental matter of principle, and both consider their respective position 
is "irrefutable." If China at least admits that there is a dispute, and the 
necessity of negotiation, Japan doesn't even acknowledge the existence of such an issue. 
In the past, the two governments have tacitly shelved this topic, leaving the contradiction silently stewing for too long.

Tokyo's nationalist governor, Shintaro Ishihara, has offered to buy the islands and "protect" 
them from Chinese intrusion.
 The rise of China has largely increased Japanese people's anxiety.

Playing to the populists

Coupled with
 the vicissitudes of Japan's domestic politics, various politicians race
 to wield magic weapons such as nationalism and toughness towards China
 to please the populists at home.

Meanwhile, as China has grown stronger, the trump cards played by Japanese politicians, trumpeting the "Landing of 
the Senkaku," are bound to prompt the Chinese to respond in kind. This 
explains why collisions between the two countries are becoming more and
 more intense.

Still, before going too far, we must remember that China and Japan are after all neighboring nations, intricately linked on both economic and security interests.

They are also
 the world's second and third biggest economies, and the strongest powers in
 the Far East. Though this tension between the big country and the rich country has much riding on it, it's at the same time the conflict the least likely to explode
 since they have the most to gain if the region stays peaceful and secure.

For this reason, even if Sino-Japanese conflicts often seem on the verge of
 blowing up, someone always pulls on the emergency brake in the nick of time.

"Seeking common ground while reserving differences…" This is the concept that drives the way Chinese and Japanese, as old enemies as well as old partners, like to think about each other. For now, it is probably sufficient for keeping the peace.

Read the original article in Chinese

Photo - PRC/BH

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FOCUS: Russia-Ukraine War

A Decisive Spring? How Ukraine Plans To Beat Back Putin's Coming Offensive

The next months will be decisive in the war between Moscow and Kyiv. From the forests of Polesia to Chernihiv and the Black Sea, Ukraine is looking to protect the areas that may soon be the theater of Moscow's announced offensive. Will this be the last Russian Spring?

Photo of three ​Ukrainian soldiers in trenches near Bakhmut, Ukraine

Ukrainian soldiers in trenches near Bakhmut, Ukraine

Anna Akage

Ukrainian forces are digging new fortifications and preparing battle plans along the entire frontline as spring, and a probable new Russian advance, nears.

But this may be the last spring for occupying Russian forces.

"Spring and early summer will be decisive in the war. If the great Russian offensive planned for this time fails, it will be the downfall of Russia and Putin," said Vadym Skibitsky, the deputy head of Ukrainian military intelligence.

Stay up-to-date with the latest on the Russia-Ukraine war, with our exclusive international coverage.

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Skinitysky added that Ukraine believes Russia is planning a new offensive in the spring or early summer. The Institute for the Study of War thinks that such an offensive is more likely to come from the occupied territories of Luhansk and Donetsk than from Belarus, as some have feared.

Still, the possibility of an attack by Belarus should not be dismissed entirely — all the more so because, in recent weeks, a flurry of MiG fighter jet activity in Belarusian airspace has prompted a number of air raid alarms throughout Ukraine.

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