Case Analysis - China and Japan Islands Conflict

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Han Li
Case study
September 14, 2012

Case Study – Island conflict

China and Japan have had strained relations post World War II and the islands row stands as the latest conflict between the two countries. Known in Japan as the Senkaku islands and in China and Taiwan the Diaoyu Islands, the ownership of the islands have long been disputed over hundreds of years, with incidents beginning in 1996. Historically under Chinese control, the islands were captured by Japan during Sino-Japanese War, yet no objections were raised by Chiang Kai-shek in the Treaty of San Francisco or Okinawa reversion as he relied on U.S. support. Japan’s claims lie within the same two resolutions, since the islands were returned to Japan by the United States (Q&A). With the recently discovered nearby oil fields and fishing grounds, the islands have resurfaced into the international spotlight as not only a territorial dispute but a race over scarce resources (Q&A). Each action taken by one side is immediately reciprocated with a political move from the other. Yet what rises above the superficial territorial and resource contest is political superiority and dominance of the region. In addition to the United States and Taiwan taking sides in this issue, China attempts to establish its dominance in Asia while the United States wishes to reassert its sphere of influence. Tense relations and differing interests could easily escalate to the dispute into greater conflict, as more than oil and fish are at stake in this disagreement. A massive surge of nationalism on both sides has been triggered, with the PRC and Taiwan representing China as an entity—an unusual sight in the contemporary world (Buerk). An analysis of this conflict allows inference onto other territorial disputes and explanation of government actions. Looking at the conflict through a realist perspective, the possibility of cooperation and compromise is improbable, neither is war.

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Realism focuses on states acting in their own interest and defiant of moral consideration. Decisions states make are derived from human nature, which is deemed selfish and competitive. Realism assumes the international system is anarchic, that states are the biggest actors in the international structure (statism), and they are “black-boxed” into like-units when examined through the realism lens. Under anarchy, states must pursue a policy of self-help to ensure survival; under which states are rational actors and power-maximizers that live in constant fear and uncertainty. Hence, for their own security, sovereignty and survival, it is essential for states to amass ...

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