Both the passage of time and the ushering in of new leaders have proven to be fruitless in the alleviation of the tension felt in East Asia. It may be well into the new year, but the ties between Japan and China continue to exhibit signs of deterioration thanks to the Senkaku or, as they’re known in China, Diaoyu Islands. The Economist, a prominent international publication, published a pair of articles earlier this month, detailing the mounting risk of conflict and the possible implications.
Between China’s continual intrusion into Japanese waters and Shinzo Abe’s, the recently elected Prime Minister of Japan, hard stance on his country’s neighbor there has been little progress toward compromise. According to the Daily Yomiuri, Chinese ships entered Japanese territory on January 20th for the twenty-third time since last September. This physical provocation has been coupled with an increasingly hostile media rhetoric. The Global Times, a newspaper from Beijing, described Japan as an American “vanguard” against China. Going further, the publication urged China’s citizens to “prepare for the worst.” In turn, Abe has recently toured Southeast Asia, visiting countries such as Thailand and Vietnam. Superficially, these visits reflect a desire to reaffirm diplomatic ties with neighbors. However, when seen in the context of the dispute, they’re arguably a defensive bolstering against China.
There is certainly much more to lose if open conflict were to break out in the region. As The Economist suggested, there would be severe ramifications. The U.S. would be dragged into a fight with China out of its obligation to Japan, and China would be at war with some of its most vital economic partners. It is surprising that such grave consequences can be traced back to a few disputed hunks of dirt that are allegedly above rich mineral deposits. There is clearly a level of pride that both Japan and China must look past to ensure some semblance of peace.