HOW THE CHINA-JAPAN ISLAND DISPUTE CAN IMPACT INDIA
Author : C.Uday Bhaskar
China has raised the politico-diplomatic
ante with Japan over the disputed islands in the East China Sea in a
definitive manner through a formal Cabinet-equivalent announcement in
Beijing and the follow-up of this assertion at the foreign minister
level in New York on Tuesday (September 25).
Territorial disputes with certain key Asian countries is a high-octane
issue in Beijing and the manner in which China is asserting its claim
with Japan over a total area of 7 sq km spread over eight uninhabited
rocky islands has a specific relevance for India. October 20, 2012,
marks the 50th anniversary of the commencement of the brief 1962
Sino-Indian border war that resulted in a complex and contested
territorial-cum-border dispute that remains unresolved to-date.
On Tuesday, the State Council in Beijing issued a white paper that
proclaimed, "China's will to defend national sovereignty and territorial
integrity is firm and its resolve to uphold the outcomes of the World
Anti-Fascist War will not be shaken by any force." The historical recall
refers to the Chinese resistance to the brutal Japanese military
invasion and occupation that began in September 1931 and concluded with
the apocalyptic end of World War II in August 1945.
The domestic determination exuded in Beijing over the islands — it
should be added that the diminutive figure of 7 sq km in the East China
Sea also translates into a huge exclusive economic zone over a radius of
200 nautical miles, or 370 km — was conveyed in New York on the
sidelines of the UN General Assembly on Tuesday by the Chinese foreign
minister to his Japanese counterpart. Tokyo has euphemistically
described the prevailing atmosphere as being 'severe'.
The current Sino-Japan tension is centred over the Senkaku/Diaoyu
islands — the names being the Japanese and Chinese variants,
respectively. Japan claimed the islands in 1895 when China was the
subaltern in the bilateral relationship and, over the last century, the
vicissitudes of colonialism and two World Wars have left their bloody,
traumatic imprint on both countries. Currently, while Japan has physical
possession of the islands, both China and Taiwan have claimed them over
the decades with varying intensity — as per their respective recall of
the historical record.
The catalyst for the current tension was the decision by the Japanese
government to 'buy' the islands from one of its own citizens to preempt
overt politicising of the sensitive issue by the more provocative Tokyo
governor, Shintaro Ishihara. This has clearly boomeranged and Beijing
has taken extreme affront to the purported sale and invoked a Chinese
proverb, "It is up to the one who tied the knot to untie it" for Tokyo
to reflect on — and make amends/atone.
Delhi is familiar with this Chinese adage apropos the May 1998 nuclear
test and the subsequent communication to the White House with its
attendant boomerang effect!
Will China and Japan go to war over this dispute? Current consensus is
in the negative. Given the trade volume and economic dependency index
that is the most dominant feature of the bilateral relationship over the
last decade, received wisdom is that while there will be
high-visibility posturing, close manoeuvres by ships and a determined
attempt to make the other party 'blink' first, the critical tipping
point will not be crossed. If it does, all kinds of military escalation
will be on the table —including the credibility of the US-Japan military
alliance and the larger East Asian security architecture.
(C Uday Bhaskar is a Senior Fellow at the National Maritime Foundation. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org. This article first appeared in The Economic Times on September 28, 2012.)