Diaoyu – Senkaku Islands Dispute

On September 2012, it was possible to watch several demonstrations of nationalist behavior in China and Taiwan to protest against Japanese control over a small and remote group of islands in the East China Sea. This archipelago is comprised by eight islands, very small and with about 7 square kilometers. They are called by the Japanese as Senkaku Islands and by the Chinese as Diaoyu Islands. The archipelago is claimed by China and Taiwan based on Ming Dynasty’s historical documents from 1556.


The Japanese annexed the archipelago in 1895 during the Sino-Japanese War on the grounds that they were uninhabited. The three main islands of the archipelago belonged to private investors and were recently bought by the Japanese government to ensure that none facilities were built there, which would cause problems with the Chinese government. Nevertheless it was precisely this measure that sparked a wave of protests in China, where the situation was explosive due to protests by thousands of people who attacked and vandalized Japanese commercial facilities in dozens of mainland cities and threw stones at the Japanese embassy in Beijing. The major Japanese automakers operating in the country had to suspend production at their factories to prevent depredations. The demonstrations were so intense that even a fleet of Taiwanese fishing boats and patrol boats were in the archipelago area challenging the presence of Japanese warships that patrol the area. The Chinese also sent hundreds of fishing boats to nearby islands in protest against the Japanese presence and likely to test the Nippon behavior under this pressure.

According to the Japanese government the Chinese and Taiwanese has claimed the territories possession only in the 1970s after evidence published in 1969 by the United Nations Economic Commission for Asia and the Far East (ECAFE), indicating that in the vicinity of the islands would be potential reserves of oil and gas. The People’s Republic of China is the world’s most populous country and the second largest energy consumer after the United States. The rising oil demand and imports have made China a very important final destination in world oil markets. China is the world’s second-largest petroleum consumer and also surpassed Japan as the world’s second-largest economy in 2010. Japan is the world’s fourth largest energy consumer and was the second largest energy importer after the United States. Therefore there are powerful interests to keep those islands under control leaving little possibilities for a quick solution. Looking at the subject of a territorial point of view the islands are very small and have no value for the purpose of human occupation. Only energy sources can justify a reaction of this magnitude by the Chinese. After all, both China and Japan depend on external sources of energy to keep their economies working without any interruption. The possibility of exploitation of these reserves would be very important to reduce external dependence to the both countries.

To complicate matters further, the anti-Japanese feeling is still strong in many Asian countries, especially in China and Korea, and in several countries in Southeast Asia caused by memories of the Japanese invasion before and during World War II. China faced the Japanese occupation from 1931 to 1945; in these years the atrocities of Japanese imperial army were so intense that still today there are difficulties to conduct a good political relationship between the two countries. As an example, according to the International Military Tribunal for the Far East (IMTFE), created shortly after the conflict on April 29, 1946, at least 200,000 people were killed by the Japanese army in the first six weeks of Nanjing occupation in December 1937, former Chinese capital. Even today, during anti-Nipponese demonstrations last September, the Chinese remembered the Mukden incident in September 1931 when supposed Chinese troops had blown up a major section of a railroad controlled by Japan in Manchuria, paving the way for a military Japanese reaction that conquered the whole province. This region was very coveted in view of its mineral wealth.

The area of the islands dispute is near of the important international maritime trade routes where hundreds of vessels transit daily. A military confrontation in this area could be a huge risky for navigation and could increase economic problems around the world. To further complicate the situation the United States signed with Japan in 1960 the Treaty of Mutual Cooperation and Security. Hence a Chinese attack to take the islands could create a serious diplomatic incident because the U.S should come in Japan’s defense.

There is no news that the parties are interested in negotiating a joint and economic exploitation of the region and so to finish a dispute that has lasted over 30 years, which prevents both sides to get benefits from the advantages of mutual cooperation. At last the two countries have a history of rivalries, wars and disagreements, these memories just increase the hostility and awake the extreme nationalism which brings more problems than solutions.

Let us see what is going to happen next.

Raimundo Oliveira

Social and Political Scientist


About Raimundo Oliveira

I'm a Social Scientist interested to study and provide analysis of global relevant issues. For professional contact send an email to rrsoliveira@hotmail.com
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