Diplomacy

Sink the Senkakus!

Monday, October 4, 2010

Tokyo -- Sinking the Senkaku Islands is the solution to the Japan-China territorial dispute that "both governments would like most," according to Phil Deans, a professor of Temple University Japan.

"They wish the islands would go away," he explained.

Deans was speaking today on a panel organized by the Foreign Correspondents' Club of Japan.

The basis of Deans' observation relates to the fact that the value of the fishery and other natural resources in the waters around the Senkakus does not even come close to the overall economic importance of positive Japan-China relations.

Instead, the Senkaku issue is "extremely vulnerable to rogue individuals... It's very easy to use these islands to precipitate a crisis that neither the Chinese government nor Japanese government wants," Deans explained.

If economic reasons do not explain the conflict over the Senkaku / Diaoyutai Islands, then why has the issue been so difficult to resolve?

Deans' analysis pointed to two major factors: the growing influence of nationalism in both countries and the fear of both governments that a flexible approach to the Senkaku dispute may have negative consequences for each nation's claims vis-à-vis other parties in the region.

Speaking of nationalism on the Chinese side, Deans observed, "the decision to promote and push nationalism by Jiang Zemin and the third generation leadership was very short-sighted, very foolish, and has created a situation of really serious problems for the Communist Party."

"This nationalism now exists well beyond the control of the Communist Party... If there is a political movement that keeps Hu Jintao and the other leaders awake at night, it's not a pro-democracy movement, it's a nationalist movement," he added.

As part and parcel of this new Chinese nationalism, the idea of Chinese victimhood has come to the fore, in contrast to the earlier Communist Party focus on the idea of China as being victorious in the Pacific War.

"There are no Marxists left in China other than in the universities," Deans contended.

In regard to the second factor that perpetuates the Senkaku conflict, Deans cites the notion that the foreign ministries of both nations are worried that a soft approach toward this dispute will work against national claims in other arenas - Tokyo worried about Takeshima and Beijing worried about the South China Sea.

"They are locked in because of a much wider agenda," he said.

Deans offered his own proposal that the islands might be neutralized as a natural reserve, with tourism revenues shared by both nations, but he is ultimately pessimistic that reason will prevail

"The problem is that nationalist groups in both countries find this anathema, even though it's a logical solution, it's a sensible solution, and it's a solution that doesn't preclude claims to other issues," he said.

"My only optimism comes from the fact that they matter so little to the governments concerned."


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Diplomacy