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What's next for Japan after Tiaoyutais landing incident?

Publication Date : 22-08-2012


A brief encounter between China and Japan over what the former calls the Diaoyu Islands but are claimed by the latter as its inherent territory of the Senkakus is over. Seven Hong Kong activists who last Wednesday landed on Japan's Uotsuri-jima — Diaoyudao in Chinese — to proclaim Chinese sovereignty over it were arrested together with nine others by Japanese police lying in wait for them, brought to Okinawa on charges of illegal entry to Japan and released and deported without charges being formally pressed.

The People's Republic of China raised hell when the arrests were made, demanding the activists' immediate release without charges, for they were on Diaoyudao which belongs to the PRC and thus didn't trespass. Japan complied. The showdown ended but the dispute over sovereignty in which Taiwan is also involved awaits another encounter that may turn pugilistic and can't be ended in just a couple of days.

The imminent conflict is Japan's for the picking. The Sankei Shimbun in Tokyo reported last week that Japan is planning to deploy troops of its Self-Defence Forces on the Senkaku Islands, a follow-up of Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda's attempt to nationalise them to prevent ultranationalist Tokyo Governor Shintaro Ishihara from purchasing them to defend them against a Chinese takeover in lieu of the Japanese Ministry of Defence. All indications now are that Japan is all set to station the troops on the tiny uninhabited islets to preclude another Diaoyudao landing, which the Hong Kong activists vowed to carry out when they returned home.

The Japanese troop deployment, if effected, will be tantamount to a de facto declaration of war against the People's Republic, for no country in the world can tolerate an army of another country on its soil and the People's Liberation Army is constitutionally bound to expel any and all Japanese troops from the Diaoyu Islands to uphold Beijing's claimed sovereignty.

War won't break out at the snap of fingers, of course. But Beijing has to announce it will go to war to defend China's inherent territory, turning the sovereignty dispute into a certain armed conflict in the making. Taiwan, so far sidelined in the dispute, has to do something. That may be the reason why Taipei is hardening its stand on the Tiaoyu Islands issue right after the release of the Hong Kong activists.

Before the release, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs tried to distance Taiwan from the landing incident, declaring there is no “cooperation” between Taipei and Beijing in the dispute against Japan and the hoisting of a Republic of China national flag on Uotsuri-jima by a Hong Kong activist was not at the behest of Taipei. Taiwan also urged Japan to resume talks on fishing rights over waters of the Tiaoyu Islands by shelving the sovereignty dispute. The release of the activists, however, prompted the Waichiaopu to issue a statement affirming their release as a move to help reduce tensions in the East China Sea and the hoisting of the national flag on the island “which Japan has furtively and occupied” as in-line with Taiwan's sovereignty claim.

The change of tone before and after the landing incident suggests that Taiwan is now ready to take an active part in the sovereignty dispute and Japan can't take Taiwan for granted any longer. Tokyo now has not just Beijing to cope with, but Taipei as well in the dispute over who owns the small real estate which Taiwan's fishermen call “No Man's Land.” Japan claimed this land, incidentally, as “terra nullius” to place under the jurisdiction of the prefecture of Okinawa shortly before the end of the Sino-Japanese War in 1895 but whose annexation was made public five years after the end of the World War II in 1950.

All this means the next showdown when it comes won't be an easy one to put an end to like the landing incident, but a really tough one to tide over. Nonetheless, it's really easy to preclude it. The only thing Japan has to do is not to station officers and men of the armed forces on the Senkaku Islands. Ultranationalism on the rise notwithstanding, Japan shouldn't try its hand at irredentism by confronting Taiwan and the People's Republic in the East China Sea, South Korea over Take-shima in the Sea of Japan, and Russia over the four Kuril Islands of Etrofu, Habomai, Shikotan, and Kunashiri in the North Pacific all at the same time.


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