Home > Analysis, Opinion, politics > On the recent Diaoyu Islands Dispute

On the recent Diaoyu Islands Dispute

There’s been another round of commotion related to the dispute over the Diaoyu Islands (in Japanese it’s called Senkaku) between China and Japan. It all started with a Tokyo mayor trying to ‘buy’ the island from some supposed private citizen who ‘owns’ it. We know these islands’ administrative control was simply given to the Japanese by the U.S., and in the Chinese government’s view, a violation of the Cairo Declaration and the Potsdam Proclamation, which stipulate that Japan must return all lands it usurped during the Second World War. In response, some activists from Hong Kong and Macau landed and was soon captured by the Japanese coast guard, though couple of days ago, were released. That sparked protests in Japan. In turn, some Japanese activists have landed on the Diaoyu Islands. That then sparked protests in China. At the moment, the U.S. is conducting military exercises with Japan, designed to deal with China in case China one day takes it by force. China’s reaction to that exercise here. What now? I want to weigh in with couple of thoughts.

First of all, I should point out that land and border disputes are very common on this planet. See my prior post, “On Territorial Disputes,” where I examined some of the disputes involving U.S. and Canada. Not to mention, if Mexico is much more powerful than the U.S., perhaps she’d want California back!

Secondly, the alliance between the U.S. and Japan is complex, and not without grief to the Japanese. Japan will ultimately look after her self-interest in the long run. Japan is in a heated dispute with South Korea for Dokdo. She is also unhappy with Russia for holding unto the Kuril Islands. Asians oppose her bid for more political power within the U.N. simply because Japan has failed to own up to history. Recently, Japan tried to claim an atoll in the Pacific Ocean as an island, and if successful, would allow Japan to claim exclusive economic zone to areas within. This effort was thwarted by South Korea and China. See my prior article, “China, Japan, and U.S., a case of ‘paper, rock, and scissors’.”

Japan’s destiny must include rapprochement with China, South Korea, and other Asian neighbors.

The United States have the military might, so she will use it as a tool in her foreign policy. That’s really what sets the country apart from China. But the order imposed by America today has allowed for somewhat a peaceful development to take place within the region. This is why China’s foreign policy is one that to embrace the world institutions and try to change it from within – as oppose to try to confront them head-on. This is essentially recognizing America’s hegemonic status in the world and demonstrative China’s constructive policy in moving forward.

So, what is there to do for China? To me, all road leads back to Confucius, and that’s 中庸. China shouldn’t get overly agitated. China should stay firm in defending what’s rightfully hers. The long term arrangement within Asia is one where such disputes are settled amicably. People may lack imagination today on how that is done, but they must have faith that peace will prevail. That’s why the diplomats between the countries are paid a lot. It’s their career choice to be problem solvers of this sort.

  1. August 21st, 2012 at 17:20 | #1

    Actually diplomats are not that well paid, at least not in the US. But details aside, since Japan has had increased tensions with both Russia & S. Korea, this might be a good opportunity to keep up the pressure on Japan in order to earn some political capital with RoK & Russia.

  2. August 21st, 2012 at 20:47 | #2

    I actually don’t quite know how 中庸 applies to international politics. In society, it is a way of life, informed by development in many areas … including cultivating honesty, deliberation, discernment, sincerity, rationality, etc.

    It’s a society that is “balanced” through “learning.”

    I am not an expert in classical Chinese thought, but I don’t think it’s non-trivial to apply it to modern international politics.

    Some may misunderstand it to mean compromise. It doesn’t matter what the history is, as long as there is a conflict, let’s compromise.

    I don’t think that’s what 中庸 stands for.

  3. August 21st, 2012 at 21:29 | #3

    When I used ‘中庸’ above, I was thinking more along the lines China shouldn’t be agitated by Western press who seems to prefer to stir up tension between the two countries. 中庸 means to have a balanced view and not veer away from truth.

    I agree it doesn’t mean compromise.

    China and Japan need to recognize that they are driven towards more confrontation, and they need to recognize whose interest heightened tension best serves.

    In terms of applying Chinese thought towards international politics, Tsinghua Professor Yan Xuetong thought Xunzi’s thought could be applicable.

  4. August 21st, 2012 at 22:09 | #4

    I disagree with this part.

    This is why China’s foreign policy is one that to embrace the world institutions and try to change it from within – as oppose to try to confront them head-on. This is essentially recognizing America’s hegemonic status in the world and demonstrative China’s constructive policy in moving forward.

    That may have been how the international system began, as a biased US centric system. But since then, the community of nations has had their say and the system has adapted to fit their views as well. So today, it is really a system that tries to take into account all those other views. As China advances, it will make its views heard more often and gain more influence.

  5. Rhan
    August 21st, 2012 at 22:09 | #5

    ‘中庸’ mean moderate, hence we sometimes use the term balance. but i think 中庸 in classical chinese mean doing the right thing, assume that we were nurtured to understand what is right.

  6. August 22nd, 2012 at 06:02 | #6

    Great blog. Here is my article from my book ‘A Nation of No Losers’.

    79 The South Sea’s gathering storm

    There have been disputes with the islets between China, Taiwan, Japan, Korea, Philippine and Vietnam for the oil in the near-by ocean. The disputes have been mild for over 40 years and no side wants to do anything until now. All these countries would not want to agitate China and China would not want to harm the trades. Now, US wants to side with countries against China. With the backing of US’s Seventh Fleet and the US’s promises (hidden but quite obvious to me), all these countries suddenly cry out loudly.

    It is US’s intention to be #1 or the big brother again in this part of the globe. It is not a wise decision unless we still live in the past glory when you’re either my puppet or my enemy. Most likely, it is decided by the politicians who want to divert our attentions as they cannot resolve our problems.

    China would withdraw the loans and we would be back to the worst depression in our history.

    We cannot afford another war. We’ve spent 1,365 billions in the two current wars so far. We cannot visualize how much is one billion or one trillion. The current tallest building in the world (in Dubai) costs about 1.5 billions. We can build about nine hundred (900, not a typo) tallest buildings in the world and guess how many jobs would be created.

    Not to mention the human suffering. China is not a tiger, but it is far from a paper tiger. Japan’s navy is stronger than most folks in US can dream of. Japan has been the aggressor to China for centuries and has been war criminals against Korea and China in WW2.

    As usual, we always pick up the brick, aim and hit our own big toe. It was Vietnam, then the Middle East wars and now South China Sea. We never learn lessons from French, Brits and Russians who had been to Vietnam, Afghan and lost big.

    No politicians would tell you all our troubles is the high expense of the wars. We have 20 years of secular bear market due to the Vietnam War, followed by 20 years of secular bull market due to lack of war, and now 12 years and still counting due to the Middle East Wars. I rest my case.


  7. tc
    August 22nd, 2012 at 07:43 | #7

    “…some activists from Hong Kong and Macau landed and was soon captured by the Japanese coast guard”.

    Given the fact that DiaoYuTai is Chinese territory, wouldn’t “… soon “kidnapped” by the Japanese thugs…” sound more appropriate?

    Just asking. Bear with me, English is my second language (or third, if Manderin second).

  8. August 22nd, 2012 at 09:53 | #8

    The boat “啟豐二號” just arrived back at HK today to a standing ovation at the pier. Of course we would never see a report like this in the western press, as it would show HK getting closer to the mainland.


  9. August 22nd, 2012 at 09:56 | #9

    Picture like this would be headline news in the western press if the coast guard boats are China’s.


  10. August 22nd, 2012 at 22:28 | #10

  11. August 22nd, 2012 at 23:57 | #11

    You are right. The Japanese coast guard (navy) harasses and arrests Chinese citizen on Chinese territory.

    I am trying to be somewhat diplomatic.

  12. tc
    August 23rd, 2012 at 06:37 | #12

    The above picture should be shown to every Chinese citizen on all media and ask if that’s acceptable, and how long we are going to tolerate that?

  13. August 29th, 2012 at 10:01 | #13

    The US’s fake neutrality on the island exposed. If not for the severity of the matter, it is almost comical.


  14. Black Pheonix
    September 19th, 2012 at 18:11 | #14
  15. Wahaha
    September 19th, 2012 at 19:27 | #15

    This time, US is neutral, the economic issues and crisis in middle east are already bad enough, US simply doesn’t have enough power to do much for Japan.


  16. Sigmar
    September 19th, 2012 at 22:23 | #16

    Some of the remarks below the article amuse me. There are those who say just because China has historical claims doesn’t mean she should have administration over the Diaoyu islands. In essence they’re arguing for a “might makes right” world structure. Interestingly, they have nothing to say regarding the Dokdo islands and the Kuril islands, which going by their reasoning should be handed to Korea and Russia with no fuss at all. Then there are those who claim that if China wishes to take back the Diaoyu based on historical evidence, then she should give up Tibet because she invaded that country; which is even more stupid, because Tibet is part of China precisely because of historical claims.

  17. Wahaha
    September 20th, 2012 at 04:51 | #17


    The comments themselves prove how badly westerners have been brainwashed.

    Take DiaoYu Islands for example, 99.99% of the people in “free” world (except Hong Kong and Taiwan) are on the side of Japan, they sound like Japan was the victim of atrocity.

    I am not saying that 50+% should be on China’s side, but if having knowledge of what happened in China between 1894-1945, at least some of them, like 20% should be on China’s side, but 99+%?

    BTW, I don’t know if US played a role to start this, but I think US’s concern is that if the tension is escalated further, China will take Diaoyu Islands back, though on heavy economic price, but Chinese government has no choice.

    Wait Japan taking a step back, China softens tones, etc, etc …

    BTW, on economic time, there was heavy debate on government’s role in the protests, what do you guys think?

  18. September 20th, 2012 at 14:08 | #18


    Maybe this is the reason Xi was “missing” for a while. Important decisions had to be deliberated and made.

  19. Black Pheonix
    September 20th, 2012 at 17:14 | #19

    Ai Weiwei tweets his way into controversy:

    “I was there. I filmed the US Ambassador’s car getting pelted by Chinese Protesters. It was all organized.”

    -Except, which part was organized?

    Ai implied that the Chinese protesters were organized by the Chinese government to show up exactly at the moment when Ambassador Locke’s car showed up outside of the US Embassy.

    I saw the video. I couldn’t tell who was in the car.

    Ai’s video showed a dozen cars passing by. No one could tell who was in which car. The Ambassador’s car showed up, as another black sedan with tinted windows.

    The front gate was blocked. The car tries to drive away, but protesters were in the way.

    The protesters kept shouting protest slogans.

    Then the Car honked, and the protesters pelted it with small objects couple of times. (look like plastic cups).

    Then the Chinese police came and pushed the protesters out of the way of the car, and the car drove off (no one chased it).

    Gary Locke didn’t get out of the car for a second. He didn’t even roll down the window.

    *So, How did Ai know it was the Ambassador’s car? And how did Ai know it well enough in advance to video tape precisely the event at the right time?

    So, maybe it was planned by Ai?

  20. Zack
    September 20th, 2012 at 21:35 | #20

    Ai weiwei really isn’t making this easier for himself is he?

  21. Wahaha
    September 22nd, 2012 at 18:14 | #21

    The more idiots like Ai Weiwei, the better for CCP.

    Frankly speaking, they are ones who love CCP most.

  22. HXM
    September 22nd, 2012 at 23:44 | #22

    @Black Pheonix
    1786 Japanese map showing Diaoyutai islands with Chinese names.

    The map also shows Taiwan in one colour and Chinese provinces in another. I don’t think it is good evidence, too contradictory for what you want to prove.

  23. Black Pheonix
    September 23rd, 2012 at 09:40 | #23


    The Japanese map maker’s choice of Chinese names for the island is an indication that the Chinese discovered and named the islands 1st.

    The Japanese map maker’s choice of color? Who knows what he intended to symbolize with that?

    Law of Sovereignty, as far as we know, does depend partially on “1st to discover”. (and I don’t think Color on maps ever made a difference).

  24. HXM
    September 23rd, 2012 at 18:25 | #24

    @Black Pheonix
    I don’t think you can say on the one hand, “who knows what colour choice was supposed to mean?” and then at the same time say, his intention in using this name is that Chinese discovered and named it. I looked at the link for where the wiki site got the map, and it took me to a larger version that also shows 南京省. Use of naming seems a little non-standard.

    Is it really your position that in a territorial dispute, the presence of a document from party b using party a’s choice of name is an indication that the territory belongs to party a?

    I will defer to your wiser judgment on what Law of Sovereignty says since you are working in IP law and I have no legal background, but I still think a document written by some guy that requires you to dismiss part of the information and guess at the author’s intention for other information is poor evidence.

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