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Dangerous standoff

Publication Date : 22-09-2012


Angry anti-Japan protests have eased off in China after peaking on September 18, China’s Day of National Humiliation that marks Japan’s invasion and occupation of Manchuria in 1931.

Rowdy demonstrations continued in cities across China for a week following the Japanese government’s decision on September 11 to purchase the Senkaku Islands from its private Japanese owner.

Tokyo’s move infuriated Beijing as it regarded the islands, which are called Diaoyu in China, as an integral part of its territory.

On Wednesday, Beijing began to clamp down on protests, trying to cool down the public anger. The decline in demonstrations was followed by moves from both sides to resume talks to resolve their territorial disputes.

Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda has suggested he would consider sending a special envoy to China to repair badly frayed relations between the two neighbours.

Chinese officials responded by informing Japan that Beijing would hold ceremonial events to commemorate the 40th anniversary of the normalisation of ties between the two countries as planned on September 27 in the Chinese capital.

While the two sides are moving to ease tensions through dialogue, a dangerous standoff at sea is still continuing. In fact, naval confrontation has been escalating, raising the possibility of an unintended, accidental clash.

China has reportedly sent two navy frigates to waters near the disputed islands, the first time for Beijing to send full-fledged warships to the area. The move followed the Japanese self-defence forces’ deployment of warships near the islands.

The two countries’ warships reportedly stay more than 100 kilometres away from each other. But they would still be able to strike at each other any time with their guided missiles. As such, an armed clash could occur, even if only by accident.

Around the islands, 16 Chinese surveillance vessels and 50 Japanese patrol boats, which are equipped with 40 mm machine guns, are also facing off against each other. China reportedly plans to send more surveillance vessels to the area to protect hundreds of Chinese fishing boats operating in waters off the islands.

The maritime confrontation is expected to continue for some time as China is intent on highlighting its dispute with Japan over the islands to invalidate Japan’s claim that there is no dispute regarding them.

We do not think the two countries would go to war over a group of small, uninhabited islands. Yet the possibility cannot be ruled out that naval skirmishes take place accidentally or as a result of the failure of the two sides to maintain self-control.

Should a clash occur, it would seriously undermine peace and stability in Northeast Asia. Its repercussions will not be limited to the region.

Even if the two countries manage to avert a clash, a prolonged confrontation will benefit no one. It will undermine regional cooperation in economic and security affairs. In fact, it is already affecting the talks on the free trade agreement among Korea, China and Japan.

Hence we urge Beijing and Tokyo to refrain from engaging in any further provocative acts and to resume talks immediately to reduce tension.

Political leaders of the two countries may not be able to find fundamental solutions to the territorial problem in light of its origin and public sentiment.

Yet they can keep it from coming to the fore by refraining from raising it for domestic political purposes. The latest disputes between Tokyo and Beijing were ignited by reckless attempts of Japanese political leaders to win votes in the coming general election.

Political leaders should realise that if they arouse nationalist sentiments for short-term political gains, they will lead their nation to ruin.

China and Japan are both key players in the global arena. So they must behave in keeping with their global status. They should leave territorial issues behind and look for areas of common interest that can benefit them. This way, they can also contribute to the region and the world.


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