Do You Have a Flag? Sino-Japanese Relations In Potentially Hot Water

East Asia experienced a series of rapid-fire international relations conundrums over the weekend on the uninhabited islands trailing off from Okinawa in the South China Sea. The Japanese national government, spearheaded by the governor of Tokyo, made a move that upset the Chinese so much that a small group of nationalists made an excursion out to the islands in order to express their grievances. The governor of Tokyo put in a bid to purchase this small group of islands, which it is calling the Senkaku Islands, and by the Japanese Diet quickly followed suit.

A little diplomacy, a la Eddie Izzard.

It is peculiar that stronger action was not taken by either side in these incidents. The Chinese government did not come down hard on their citizens for carrying out business on behalf of, but not at the bequest of, the State. They also did little to stop the mobs of enraged citizens who made their anger known in at least 23 Chinese cities. The Japanese government reacted in an equally reserved manner. Despite laying legal claim to the islands, they only expelled the Chinese nationalists, questioned them a bit, and sent them home. Little was said about the damages inflicted upon Japanese businesses in China. Then, when an enclave of their own Japanese nationalists made the unauthorized decision to visit the islands themselves and start planting flags, they asked them nicely to leave, as it would only be polite.These islands came under dispute in the post-WWII shake up over land ownership: China has historically laid claim to these islands, which they call the Daioyutai Islands, but Japan invaded, claimed but  was eventually made to relinquish ownership of the islands until a decision was made in 1971 by the American government to reassign ownership to Japan, which then named them the Senkaku Islands. At present, the islands are owned by a private individual in Saitama Prefecture, Japan. Disputes erupted across China, where Japanese flags were burned and Japanese-owned businesses were mobbed and damaged. The Hong Kong-based Chinese nationalists who made an excursion out to the islands to prove their country’s dedication were quickly expelled and returned to Chinese custody. A group of Japanese nationalists responded in kind by making their own trip to the islands and planting their country’s flag all over the islands, to show their country’s solidarity and support of the islands remaining the Senkaku. This group was escorted off the area the same day.

Now, the connection between the Japanese government, in particular the Diet, and the organized Nationalist forces has weakened dramatically since the days of the Greater East Asia Co-Prosperity Sphere, though the right-wingers have gained a lot of clout in the meantime. The Japanese Diet, under the Liberal Democratic Party, acquiesced to nationalist’s argument in the case of the education of Japanese youth, in expanded Japanese Self-Defense Forces’ activity in the region, and most visibly with the maintenance of and visits to Yasukuni Shrine by many high government officials. All notable victories for the Right, but this time Japan was much less interested in nationalist scheming.

They’ve chosen to avoid other delicate issues on the nationalists’ priority list, such as attempting to amend Article 9 of their constitution or the expulsion of the American military presence on Japanese soil. So how does an eight square mile stretch of uninhabited rocks manage to rank so tediously high on the list? Maybe this time, Japan has chosen its battles more wisely. If genuine solidarity was shown for these right-wing activists, the Japanese government would be faced with unraveling ties with China, South Korea, and the United States, all comprising major implications for Japan’s future stability in the region. For now, it’s just posturing to appease the rightists, but it could signal a major shift in the degree of influence exerted by the nationalists on the Japanese government.
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Photo source: The Australian