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Oct 12

China and Japan Leaders to (Try to) Improve Ties

Written by guest on Tuesday, October 12th, 2010 at 8:48 am
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It’s a new month since the fiasco of the Diaoyu/Senkaku Islands in the East China Sea and Chinese Prime Minister Wen Jiabao and Japanese PM Naoto Kan have met to mend recently frayed diplomatic ties. That a centuries’ old enmity will be healed is unlikely if not unfeasible, but both diplomats have agreed to improve relations, “to resume exploring ties,” said Japanese spokesperson Noriyuki Shikita.

A Recap on the Islands Debate

Last month, a Chinese trawler collided with Japanese patrol vessels near the islands. The Chinese crew was arrested and, later, released, but not before sparking both Chinese and small patches of Japanese outrage.

The islands in question are known by Chinese as the Diaoyu Islands and by the Japanese as Senkaku Islands. Japan claims that in the 19th century, it surveyed the islands for a decade and declared them uninhabited. In January of 1895, they incorporated the islands into Japanese territory; these claims as well as claims to Taiwan were rescinded after defeat in WWII in the 1951 Treaty of San Francisco. Under the same treaty, however, the islands were returned to Japan in 1971 under the Okinawa reversion deal.

Meanwhile, China claims the islands historically as important fishing grounds administered by provincial Taiwan, which was ceded to Japan in the Treaty of Shimonoseki in 1895 after the Sino-Japanese War. China claims that the 1951 treaty should have seen the islands returned, along with Taiwan. Chiang Kai-shek—Kuomintang leader—did not speak up, however, even after the Japanese renamed the islands after the reversion deal. It has been agreed that this was for diplomatic purposes as the Chinese depended on US support.

Also meanwhile, Taiwan’s ballot remains in the box as claiming the islands.

Quite objectively, this is a lovely can of worms.

A Brief History of Conflict

The September trawler occurrence is not the only one. In 1996, protesters against the construction of a lighthouse on one of the islands by the Japanese sailed there; David Chan from Hong Kong leapt into the sea and drowned. In 2004, seven Chinese activists who set foot on the main island were arrested by Japanese authorities. One year later, 50 Taiwanese fishing boats protested and claimed harassment by Japanese patrol boats. Tensions have, despite both governments wishing to “shelve” the issue for “future settlement” (according to BBC), have been running high.

China’s interests in the islands are obvious to many as being more than sentimental. The islands are close to shipping lanes. Gas and oil fields on the islands have been disputed over since the 1970s. Diplomatic relations have been shaky for reasons other than economic and trade-related disputes, but China’s cancellation of a visit by one-thousand Japanese students to Shanghai and a concert by a Japanese band certainly didn’t help, and Japan’s unwise seizure of the trawler crew was a short-sighted decision for which diplomacy will pay. At least a diplomatic apology might have been exchanged, but polls show that some conservative Japanese are already upset by what they see as a diplomatic defeat. A statement released by the Japanese Ministry of Foreign Affairs declared that “China calling for apology or compensation is groundless and is absolutely not acceptable.”

The 1997 Fisheries Agreement

The Japan-China fisheries agreement designated territories for fishing for both nations, but the seas around the Diaoyu/Senkaku Islands was left unregulated and welcomed fishing boats from both nations. An intriguing article by Tanaka Sakai (found here: http://www.fpif.org/articles/rekindling_china-japan_conflict) reveals, however, that the region lies outside the agreement entirely. That Japan is choosing to anger China—something previous seats in government chose to refrain from doing explicitly on both sides of the table—is a new development.

Prime Minister Wen last month refused to meet Kan at the recent United Nations summit. Higher hopes were set for the talks at the Asia Europe Meeting (ASEM) in Brussels on Monday and Tuesday but the two appeared to avoid each other, according to BBC. Both parties, however, had a chance encounter in a corridor after the formal talks had closed and agreed that this sibling rivalry was undesirable. Moreover, both agreed to hold regular “high-level talks.”

Bio: Maria Rainier is a freelance writer and blog junkie. She is currently
a resident blogger at First in Education performing research surrounding online universities and their various program offerings. In her spare time, she enjoys square-foot gardening, swimming, and avoiding her laptop.


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2 Responses to “China and Japan Leaders to (Try to) Improve Ties”

  1. Sino-Gist Says:

    I think the world can only be very reservedly optimistic about a major improvement in Sino-Japanese ties anytime soon…

  2. sunbin Says:

    a couple notes
    1. okinawa reversion treat is not the same as SF treaty
    2. for the comments related to the Fishery Agreement, pls see
    http://www.eastasiaforum.org/2010/09/30/china-japan-trawler-incident-japans-unwise-and-borderline-illegal-detention-of-the-chinese-skipper/

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