Sino-Japan Relations: Fishmongers or Warmongers?

Authors Avatar by azka9 (student)

Isaac Newton’s third law addresses that for every action, there is an equal or opposite reaction – and throughout history, this notion has exemplified the Sino-Japanese relations. On 7 September 2010, Chinese fishing boat captain Zhan Qixiong collided with two Japanese Coast Guard vessels near the islands in the East China Sea. This resulted in the Japanese action of his arrest which has revived tensions prompting a political reaction from China which has potentially has serious regional repercussions.

This paper develops on the horizon of the East China Sea where Japan and China both have their own boundary claims to it. The foundation will set the scene of the territorial disputes: the Pinnacle (in English) or Diaoyu (in Chinese) or Senkaku (in Japanese) islands. Followed by the introduction of five primary pillars which argue their ‘crimes’ of acting as a contributing catalyst to this conflict by exploring actions made by each government. Last but not least, the second part will discuss the factors that may determine a dateline as to whether this matter will be resolved soon or possible even never.

To begin with, Zhan Qixiong was within Japanese custody from the 7 September 2010 because he was deemed to have crossed over the ‘boundary line’. After three weeks of diplomatic rows, protests and public demonstrations, the Japanese government finally released Chinese fishing boat captain Zhan Qixiong to the Chinese authorities. With the history between these two powers Zhan’s detention could ignite in China – and it did.

Interestingly the ‘fire’ could have set off even earlier. In June 2008, a Taiwanese fishing vessel sank after it collided with a Japanese coast guard. The crew involved was released with an apology from Japanese officials but the damage may have already been dealt. Since the event, each armed forces have been increasing their naval and aerial presence in the area which has led to several military stand offs.

For the last 120 years, the islands have been administered by Japan. Since United Nations investigation in 1969 indicated the possibility of oil and gas reserves in the surrounding waters around the islands, both sides have ratcheted up their claims which have become more intense in the past few years.

 From the Japanese front, there were attempts to build constructs on the island (including a helipad). Likewise in response, there were various attempts by the Chinese nationals to land on the islands including the death of a Hong Kong man in 1996. Both have also argued on the right over the Chunxiao Gas fields and while they recently agreed to jointly develop the gas fields, Zhan’s detention has led to a suspension in these talks.

Essentially this brings us to the foremost pillar – Japan’s misstep in handling regional affairs. Upon detaining Zhan, it was stated that he will be investigated to the extent of Japanese domestic law. Yet this was unlikely the central case. An official reason behind Zhan’s release was due to the deteriorating Sino-Japanese relations rather than any reason of legal basis.

For instance, there was not valid reason for the decision of Japanese authorities to extend Zhan’s detention duration from 9 September to 24 September 2010. It severely depicted another negative image on the historically already ‘tainted wall’ of Japan to the Chinese public. Compared to the similar incident in 2008, the captain’s arrest then was allowed to return in the space of 3 days while Zhan suffered for at least two weeks.

Despite official denials, it seems likely that Japan wanted to use Zhan’s detention to make a point on Japan’s claims of sovereignty on the Diaoyu islands. However, how exactly then Japanese prime minister Naoto Kan and his government wanted to use the Zhan situation is not conclusive.

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Yet what would then cause Japan to make such a decision? This arouses the second catalysts of this dispute – the concept of Japanese insecurity.

According to Deng Xiaoping, ‘to be rich is glorious’ and Japan is doing the opposite – gloriously plummeting. Fear is a prerequisite ingredient of building towards an irrational action and this detention decision may have been those of a declining power. For the past decades, there has been a clear transition of China’s economic and political position in the world stage. In contrast with Japan’s stagnant economy and weakening influence, it has imbedded ...

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