The Flawed Logic Behind Beijing’s Senkaku/Diaoyu Policy | The Diplomat
By Yaping Wang
Beijing has responded to Japan’s recent nationalization of the disputed Diaoyu/Senkaku islands, with activities on the ground (or water) designed to undermine Japan’s de-facto control of the islands. Beijing’s actions were rightly captured as “reactive assertiveness” by an International Crisis Group report, where “[China] exploits perceived provocations in disputed areas by other countries to take strong countermeasures to change the status quo in its favor.”
By inducing costs on the ground, Beijing’s goal is to make Tokyo recognize the existence of the dispute and agree to negotiate. However, this “reactive assertive” approach makes flawed calculations of risks and gains.
Beijing does have some logical reasons to pursue this course. One, inaction would be difficult to reconcile with boiling domestic nationalism. Two, Japan’s control of the islands does not give Tokyo any motive to recognize the existence of the dispute, much less the willingness to negotiate. Unless China gains some leverage vis-à-vis Japan, chances are thin that this issue will ever even reach the negotiating table. Three, Japan’s initial provocation may have inflamed China, but it offered Beijing the chance to retaliate by challenging Japan’s de-facto control of the islands while still claiming the moral high ground. Four, the economic ties between China and Japan, as well as U.S. interests, seem strong enough to keep potential armed conflicts at bay. To the extent that the U.S. is involved, its interests in these tiny, uninhabited rocks are marginal. Although its security treaty obligations with Japan bind it to action should the islands be attacked, the U.S. will attempt to deter the use of force. Finally, a strong and consistent response would effectively showcase to China’s other disputants, in the South China Sea for example, its resolve to defend its position in territorial disputes.
Photo: Flickr/Al Jazeera English