Renewed Tension Over The Senkaku/Diaoyu Islands

The rising uncertainty between Taiwan and China over the last few months is awakening tension all over Asia, particularly in Japan, as the fate of the Senkaku/Diaoyu Islands is being decided. The Senkaku/Diaoyu Islands are a cluster of uninhabited islands in the East China Sea, administered by Japan. The islands are located northeast of Taiwan, east of China, and west of Japan’s Okinawa Island. Both China and Japan claim economic and political rights in an exclusive zone (EEZ) that stretches two hundred nautical miles from each country’s coast. However, since the sea that divides the two countries is only three hundred and sixty nautical miles, the zone overlap, causing tension and sparking conflict.

In an interview with the Japanese Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Japan’s spokesperson stated that “the Senkaku Islands are part of the areas whose administrative rights were reverted to Japan by the Agreement between Japan and the United States of America Concerning the Ryukyu Islands and the Daito Islands that entered into force in 1972.” Japan’s spokesperson highlighted that the islands were under the country’s jurisdiction before world war two and passed to the United States after the end of the conflict. The islands were returned to Japan in 1972 and “none of the points raised by the Government of China and the Taiwanese authorities as historical, geographical or geological evidence provide valid grounds in light of international law to support their sovereignty over the Islands.”

Sabre-rattling between China and Taiwan is alarming Japan, which is worried that Chinese expansionist ambitions will target the Senkaku Islands after Taiwan. The situation is extremely delicate, and it is easy to understand Japan’s concern, especially in light of East Asia’s current volatility. Japan has built new military bases on nearby islands as a response to the multiple Chinese missile attacks. It is essential to find a diplomatic understanding of the growing tension between Japan and China, not only to prevent an outburst of conflict between the two Asian superpowers but, more broadly, to control a chain reaction of violence that could expand and involve the rest of Asia. It is essential to find a compromise that would prevent any economic, social and political consequences from arising out of the Japan-China tension over the islands.

The tension over the Senkaku/Diaoyu Islands is not brand new, but dates back to the 1970s when the Chinese government began to reassert claims over the Senkaku/Diaoyu islands, noting historic ownership of the area. The tension resurfaced in September 2012 when Japan purchased three of the discussed islands from a private owner. The islands are prosperous, not only for their gas and oil reserves but also for their proximity to central trade routes and their abundant fish stocks. In April 2014, President Barack Obama openly stated that the Senkaku/Diaoyu islands fall under the U.S.-Japan Security Treaty of 1972, heightening the tension between Japan and China.

The Japan-China tension over the Senkaku/Diaoyu Islands is rooted in the countries’ histories and, unless it is handled with caution, it may develop into a much bigger conflict that might involve the rest of Eastern Asia at least. To prevent more extensive political, social and economic consequences it is essential to reach a diplomatic agreement. It is vital to contain an outburst of violence in an already unstable environment, which would mainly affect civilians and the global economy, and to find a solution that will lead to peace.