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December 2012

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Understanding the China-Japan Island Conflict
By Rodger Baker, STRATFOR VP for East Asian Analysis
Reviewed by John Sylvester

Lying off the Ryukyu Chain, also close to Taiwan, the tiny, rocky Senkaku Islets—Diaoyu in Chinese—should be of little importance. Though lovely from the air, as I once saw them, they are no place for people to live. Now, however, they have become the focal point for the quarrel between Japan and China.

The STRATFOR article notes how China’s increasing assertiveness, backed by the expansion of its blue-water navy, is leading to the strengthening of Japan’s military capabilities and of political calls by politicians there for abandoning post-war pacifistic ways. The author states that: “The United States’ underlying interest is maintaining a perpetual balance between Asia’s two key powers so neither is able to challenge Washington’s own primacy in the Pacific.”

When Deng Xiaopin said: “to get rich is glorious,” Maoism as the source of the regime’s legitimacy collapsed. It has been replaced by nationalism and the need for continuous economic growth. The authorities in Beijing can most easily stress their nationalist credentials by drumming on their people’s historical grudge against Japan. Thus the Senkaku/Diaoyu territorial dispute blooms.

The issue is also tied to that of the American bases on Okinawa. The Okinawans have long memories of the devastation caused by the fighting between the Imperial Japanese Army and U.S. forces in 1945. We kept the islands as a military-run colony until 1972, when they reverted to Japanese sovereignty, while our bases remained. The leftist parties and newspapers of Okinawa keep exploiting base issues to demand withdrawal of the American presence. This causes notable political problems for the central government, which has promised further reductions of our presence there, particularly of the Marine air facility at Futenma, once in the countryside but now surrounded by the city. The Japanese government, with increasing worries about China and even greater need for U.S. security guarantees, has second thoughts now, and is caught between two contradictory political pressures.bluestar

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