Islands dispute leaves diplomatic ties in tatters
The archipelago is made up of tiny rock outcroppings that have been a sore point between China and Japan for decades. Japan has claimed the islands since 1895. The US took jurisdiction after the second World War and turned them over to Japan in 1972.
Japan also has an interest in claiming the islands as part of its efforts to keep a grip on its maritime holdings. Japan has a total exclusive economic zone of 4.5 million square kilometres in the high seas, five times more than its much bigger and more populous neighbour, even though they both have around the same amount of coastline.
Japan has negotiated the Senkaku issue in the past at international level, but each time both sides agreed to shelve it.
“If both sides insist on their own positions and the matter is settled through military force, Japan will have no chance of prevailing,” Magosaki Ukeru, former director general of the foreign ministry’s international information bureau, wrote in an editorial in the Asia-Pacific Journal.
“Leaving the issue on the shelf is in Japan’s national interest. In the context of China’s expansion of its military force, Japan is required to make a calm assessment of prevailing conditions.”
Akihiro Suzuki was among hundreds of Japanese neo-nationalists who made the 1,900km (1,180-mile) trip from Tokyo to the remote islets last month, and the only member of the Tokyo assembly. “In general military terms China is more powerful,” he said. “But with the weapons and technology we have from America, we would be able to respond in a short-term, regional conflict.”
Hiroyuki Kurihara, spokesman for the family that sold the islands to the Japanese government, believes China is becoming a strong power and Japan needs to protect its national interest.
“I personally share Governor Ishihara’s political concerns about China’s growing power. But I don’t think China will go to war. It has too much to lose economically and wants to be part of the developed world,” said Kurihara. He recalled that after China began making claim to the islands in the 1970s, a group of Japanese ultra-nationalists sailed to the Senkakus in 1978, taking two goats. The goats have since multiplied into a large herd of “around 2,000” on the largest of the islands.