The New World Of Security In East Asia

Word from our man in Tokyo throws some new light, for us, on the fishing trawler dispute between China and Japan. He says that there is a sense among officials that this is only the latest, if most serious, incident in a series of tests by Beijing over the past year of where Japan sees its security interests as truly lying: to what extent is the long-standing alliance with the U.S. weakening; and to what extent would a more Asia-focused security policy mean that Tokyo would see Beijing as a competitor or a rival?

While the governing DJP has been pushing improved relations with China and lessening Japan’s dependence on the U.S., the recent change of prime minister from Hatoyama to Kan has caused that pendulum to swing back a bit towards the alliance with the U.S., notably in terms of maintaining the existing agreements over the location of U.S. forces in Okinawa.

That swing is also reflected in Kan’s choice for foreign minister, Seiji Maehara, who falls squarely into the China-as-rival camp. Maehara has repeated that the islands in the East China Sea at the heart of the current dispute, the Senkakus (Diaoyus to China), are inalienable Japanese territory, though to be fair, even the most pro-Chinese Japanese politician holds the same line.

Japanese officials still believe that China will, after sufficient chest-thumping, accept that the rule of law holds in Japan and that Tokyo cannot overrule the legal process for political ends — as Beijing increasingly says publicly that it can’t with its own legal system. Fingers are crossed that the detained captain of the Chinese fishing trawler will be released by Japanese prosecutors with a warning. He faces up to three years in prison if court charges are brought and he is convicted; Beijing might not have enough invective left in that event. For all the belief in rule of law, as well as fingers being crossed, no doubt a few arms are being discreetly twisted, too.

A release would allow for face to be retained on both sides and the incident to be defused. It would not ease the underlying tensions, however. Japan is likely to continue its build up of ground and naval forces in and around the disputed waters of the East China Sea and to be sure that it keeps the U.S. over its shoulder. For its part, Beijing is likely to continue to keep probing a Japan still looking for its place in the new security environment of the western Pacific where a more assertive China is willing to test boundaries first and resolve disputes after.

Update: Xinhua is reporting that four Japanese have been detained for unauthorized entry into a military zone in Hebei.


Filed under China-Japan

6 responses to “The New World Of Security In East Asia

  1. Do you not think that Japan is now (in a sense) tied to holding the captain? Although a release might save the Japanese some face, it would be seen by many as Chinese pressure paying off. Japan could hace released the captain in the first week of the crisis without too much loss to its image, but i think the situation has gone on too long for this to be the case now.



  2. Pingback: Japan Defuses Fishing Trawler Row With China « China Bystander

  3. Looks as if the Vox Pop in Japan is more clear cut than in China. Popular sentiment there seems to be that Japan climbed down. — CB.

  4. Sadly, my knowledge of Japanese politics is quite limited, so i’m not entirely sure how the aftermath of the affair will play out on the Japanese domestic scene. The effect on the DPJ’s/Naotao Kan’s popularity will be worth following though…

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