ISSN 2330-717X

China May Face Japan Pushback In East China Sea – Analysis


By Parameswaran Ponnudurai

As Southeast Asia stands up against what some states call Chinese bullying over territorial sea disputes, Japanese patience appears to be wearing thin with Beijing’s more assertive stance in the East China Sea.

New Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda has signaled he will not be a pushover if China moves aggressively to press its claim to a Japanese-controlled island chain in the Sea, where rich oil and gas reserves are believed to exist.

“If there’s one issue that can raise the emotions of the normally calm and collected Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda, it is Japan’s territorial disputes,” declared the Asahi Shimbun, a leading Japanese daily.

Three days before he was elected this week as Japan’s sixth prime minister in five years, Noda lamented that Tokyo has portrayed “a weak image when it comes to territorial issues” and “we should be prepared in case something happens.”

He anticipates a Chinese provocation as Beijing prepares for a once-in-a-decade leadership transition beginning next year, when Vice President Xi Jinping succeeds President Hu Jintao as Chinese Communist Party chief and as the country’s leader in early 2013.

“For that country, next year is a transformation period as its leadership will change,” Noda said, without naming China. “There is a possibility that the country will take provocative action against Japan.”

The 54-year-old Noda’s positions on foreign policy and defense are generally center-right. His father was a member of the Self-Defense Forces, as the military is called in Japan, and has been a strong supporter of the U.S.-Japan alliance.

Disputed islands

Only a week before his election on Tuesday, Japan lodged a formal protest to Beijing when two Chinese ships briefly entered what it regards as its territorial waters near the disputed East China Sea islets, known as Senkaku in Japan, or Diaoyu in China.

Beijing shrugged off the protest. Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Ma Zhaoxu said China’s sovereignty over the islands was “indisputable.”

Sino-Japanese Relations“The test of wills that goes on all the time over the Senkaku/Diaoyu islands—that in particular is a disaster waiting to happen,” Richard Bush, director of the Center for Northeast Asian Policy Studies at Washington-based Brookings Institution, told RFA.

“The two governments need to get a handle on this,” he said.

Last year, Japan’s arrest of a Chinese fishing boat captain in the same area triggered bilateral tensions that lasted several months and led Beijing to halt discussions on joint exploitation of gas reserves in the disputed area.

But reconciling the differences between Asia’s two biggest economies over this longrunning dispute over the islands may not be easy.

“After last year’s Sino-Japanese clash over a Chinese fishing trawler’s provocations, it is clear that unlike [Japanese Prime Minister Shizo] Abe in 2006, Noda does not have a strong partner in reconciliation in today’s China,” said Sheila Smith, senior fellow for Japan studies at the New York-based Council on Foreign Relations (CFR).

“Rather, he has a Sino-Japanese relationship that is tense and easily riled,” she said, adding it would be wise for Noda to “build the domestic basis for a strategic approach to China, one that prepares for some rough waters on the way to that ‘win-win’ outcome.”

Other experts believe Noda will be able to navigate his way through the territorial conflict with quiet diplomacy.

“[H]e is known as a good listener and is less ideological than some other pro-defense Diet (Japanese parliament) members of his generation,” said a report by the Washington-based Center for Strategic and International Studies.

“For these reasons, he is expected to work on quiet diplomatic resolutions to territorial disputes with Japan’s neighbors.”

Chinese critics

Even before he took office Friday, the Chinese media had harsh words for Noda as Premier Wen Jiabao and the Chinese Foreign Ministry each sent brief messages congratulating him.

The media and other commentaries played up his remarks backing a controversial Tokyo shrine honoring World War II dead, including war criminals, and wanted him to avoid visits to the Yasukuni Shrine where 14 war criminals are among the honored war dead.

The official Xinhua news agency said Noda’s new government must show respect for China’s territorial integrity, adding that China is willing to jointly explore for resources around the islands on condition that Japan recognize Beijing’s complete sovereignty over them.

“I think if you went back and looked at the commentary about Shinzo Abe, who became prime minister in September of 2006, you’ll find many of the same things and even worse, and much worse,” noted Brookings expert Bush.

“But look at what happened. Abe never went to Yasukuni as prime minister, China-Japan relations improved a great deal and the two governments were able to handle things in a pretty much constructive way and all the predictions turned out to be misguided.”

Increasing assertiveness

Most analysts agree China is becoming increasingly assertive in its territorial claims in the region.

Its claim over the entire South China Sea, which is believed to hold valuable oil and minerals, has made the vast waters one of the region’s key strategic flashpoints and underscored China’s military ambitions.

Beijing last month launched its first aircraft carrier, unsettling its Asian neighbors.

Tensions flared in the Sea in May when Chinese ships allegedly rammed one Vietnamese oil survey ship and cut the exploration cables of another, while sailors from China’s navy reportedly assaulted the captain of a Vietnamese fishing boat and confiscated its catch.

Earlier this week, Indian officials said that an Indian naval vessel was confronted by an unidentified vessel saying it was from the Chinese navy in South China Sea waters off Vietnam in July.

Reports said the incident occurred in international waters shortly after India’s amphibious assault ship INS Airavat completed a scheduled port call in Vietnam.

The INS Airavat visited Nha Trang in south-central Vietnam and the northern port of Haiphong in the second half of July.
“On the face of it, the reported ‘confrontation’ seems little more than a storm in a tea cup but it could be the harbinger of a tense future maritime dynamic between the Indian and Chinese navies in Asian waters,” warned Indian foreign policy expert C. Raja Mohan.

Some Chinese analysts have argued that India does not have the political will or material resources to sustain a credible presence in the South China Sea, he said in a commentary in the Indian Express newspaper.

“The latest incident is perhaps a minor ‘shot across the bow’ to test the Indian resolve. India must expect more such tests in the future.”

Click here to have Eurasia Review's newsletter delivered via RSS, as an email newsletter, via mobile or on your personal news page.


Radio Free Asia’s mission is to provide accurate and timely news and information to Asian countries whose governments prohibit access to a free press. Content used with the permission of Radio Free Asia, 2025 M St. NW, Suite 300, Washington DC 20036.

4 thoughts on “China May Face Japan Pushback In East China Sea – Analysis

  • September 5, 2011 at 2:43 am

    For a Chinese, I find this article somewhat ridiculous. China has not done much about its territorial disputes for the last twenty years, allowing countries like Vietnam and Japan to secretly occupy the disputed islands one by one. It’s high time that our country did something to protect our land, and personally, I think this is none of America’s business.

  • September 5, 2011 at 11:46 am

    If China really wants the islands back, China can now go in and take it by force and Japan will not be able to do a thing! Well, if China civilizations
    had been built on one like imperialist and colonialism, China would have done it long time ago. China been too civilized in the past and got kicked at the balls. But still China is not seeking revenge or to conquer or to bully. China has legitimate claims to its sovereignty and China is doing just that hoping other countries could be just as civilized. War with China? I do not think China likes wars with Japan even Japan is now will have very little show with China and even with US and Nato throw in. Why? China`s history had been constantly at wars through out in order to unite the whole China as you see now. China understands what wars mean and treasure peace and harmony to its fullness. That`s why Chinese are generally non aggressive and friendly and refrain from mob mentality. Watch any Bruce Lee`s movies? Has Bruce goes around to bully anyone with his kongfu like a boxer or karate street fighters? No, he had been a totally gentleman and very soft and friendly and never assume for any fight even you push him. Why people got thrashed by Bruce then even they`re the best fighters? They asked for it and forced Bruce into it! Simple, to deal with China DO NOT try to bite the bone if you already eaten the flesh. China has done its home works – China has completed a vast underground tunnels net works spanning 5,000km and are few hundred meters deep under huge mountain ranges, which can withstand any nuclear or chemical strikes!
    How many ICBMs with a range of 15,000km in there? Well, you can`t guess and they don`t tell you. Have a nuclear war with China is a NO NO to start with. China is now capable of decimate all bases in the first island chains namely: Okinawa,Philippines,S.Korea and as far as Guam in the pacific by just letting thousands of missiles go like fire crackers celebrating Chinese new year. Do not mistake those are Russian scub missiles quality. China has developed hundreds of varieties of missiles and they are lethal with range, speed and accuracy. China has thousands of its old MIG jet fighters turned into remote control unmanned kamakashi jet fighters loaded with one thing – big bomb. US is simply has not enough firepower to take on China in the Pacific. China is capable of sinking US`s aircraft carriers group if come within 3,000km of China`s coast. Very soon China`s stealth fighters J20s will be able to knock out the air cover for US`s aircraft carriers in the Pacific by attacking its air refuel tankers.
    I will not mess around with Bruce even I`m the best karate fighter!

  • September 6, 2011 at 1:43 am

    I’m disgusted by the bullying comments left by chinese readers. But they explicitly express how China is imperialistic, building up a huge army to conquer the world, beginning with neighbouring states.

  • September 6, 2011 at 3:08 am

    Japan would move their multinationals out of the PRC to Thailand and India. So while a restriction on rare earths by the PLA looks to harm Japan, it is a catch 22 for the PLA. If Japanese multinationals move their operations out of the PRC it will leave the PLA with significant social unrest due to the unemployed.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.