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China Poised for Countermove in Diaoyu Islands Dispute

09-11 13:16 Caijing
China should implement a "three-in-one" policy of crisis diplomacy, full military preparations, and joint efforts of the government and society.

By staff reporters Wang Yu, Shu Taifeng, Cai Tingyi, Shen Cichen, Qiu Zhaoqi, and Zuo Xuan

In April 2012, Tokyo Governor Shintaro Ishihara announced a plan to purchase the Diaoyu islands in the East China Sea, re-igniting a decades-long dispute with China over ownership of the territory.

Soon afterward, activists from the Chinese mainland, Taiwan, Hong Kong and Macau who had sailed out to defend the Diaoyu islands were repatriated after being detained for 48 hours. Later, Japanese rightists sailed to the islands; meanwhile, Tokyo raised 1.46 billion yen (about 119 million yuan) to buy the islands and illegally entered the waters of the disputed islands on Sept. 2 to conduct investigations. The disturbance culminated Sept. 5 when Japanese media reported the Japanese government had reached an agreement with whom the Japanese side called the "private owner" of the Diaoyu islands to purchase three of the islands for 2 billion yen.

Japan's Cabinet decided Sept. 11 to disburse reserve funds to purchase the three islands before signing a sales contract the same day, amid warnings by top Chinese leaders, including President Hu Jintao, Premier Wen Jiabao and top legislator Wu Bangguo.

Japan has thought about nationalizing the Diaoyu islands for a long time. The Yoshihiko Noda Cabinet put forward a nationalization program immediately after Shintaro Ishihara proposed that Tokyo purchase the islands. The program is significant in that it will transform frequent clashes between China and Japan at the grassroots level into conflicts involving both nations' central governments. As a result, this highly sensitive and longtime territorial dispute, which was previously downplayed by both countries, has been pushed to a new height.

Back in 1582, the Diaoyu islands was officially incorporated into the Chinese territory as a part of Fujian Province. Until the late Qing Dynasty, there was absolutely no ambiguity as to the ownership of the islands. The territorial dispute began in 1879, when Japan invaded Ryukyu, a vassal state of the Qing Dynasty, and renamed it "Okinawa Prefecture." The Treaty of Shimonoseki signed by the Qing government after the Sino-Japanese War (1894-95) stipulated that "the island of Taiwan and all of its affiliated islands [which include the Diaoyu islands]" be ceded to Japan. Since then, Japan incorporated the Diaoyu islands into its territory as a part of Okinawa Prefecture.

After the Second World War, Japan was required to return Taiwan and all of its affiliated islands [including the Diaoyu islands] to China, as stipulated by both the Cairo Declaration and the Yalta Agreement. However, the United States took an ambiguous stance on the issue, in consideration of its strategic layout before and after the Cold War. U.S. policy at that time in effect served to bury a time bomb in the East China Sea.

The principle of "shelving disputes and seeking common development" set forth by former Chinese leader Deng Xiaoping in 1979 has been the basic rule for China and Japan to handle the Diaoyu islands dispute in the past 30 years. Both countries claimed sovereignty over the islands while waiting for an appropriate time to resolve the dispute, and neither country will make concessions in this regard. Rifts between China and Japan triggered by the dispute frequently emerge, rattling the nerves of the two peoples.

Commenting on Japan's attempt to "nationalize" the Diaoyu islands, Zhu Feng, professor at the School of International Studies, Peking University, said that "China has never faced such a severe 'Japanese threat' since Japan surrendered in 1945."

Zhou Yongsheng, professor at China Foreign Affairs University, told Caijing that Japan's move represents the first time a central government has tried to purchase a disputed territory from the hands of a private owner; therefore, the issue has turned into a major case that involves legal principles. "The issue has aroused great attention worldwide. If China does not come up with effective counter-measures, it will be difficult to quell public opinion."

As the Diaoyu islands dispute escalated over the past few months, China has witnessed the outbreak of the biggest anti-Japanese demonstrations since 2010, which spread to various cities including Chengdu, Guangzhou, Shenzhen, and Changchun.

Zhu Feng contends that the Diaoyu islands dispute does not yet risk completely overturning Sino-Japanese relations. The country should, on the basis of clearly determining its national and strategic interests, implement a "three-in-one" policy of crisis diplomacy, full military preparations, and joint efforts of the government and society.

"Turning 'defending the Diaoyu islands' into a long-term strategic task is more important than simply declaring zeal for battle over the issue," said Zhu Feng.

Two coastguard vessels from China are scheduled to arrive in Diaoyu islands Sept. 11, a day after China announced the base points and baselines of the islands' territorial waters and its plans to conduct routine monitoring of the islands and their adjacent waters.

Full article in Chinese: http://magazine.caijing.com.cn/2012-09-09/112113416.html

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