East China Sea / Senkakus: Naval Exercises and Little Tricks

China started live ammunition exercises off its east coast on Tuesday, in waters near the Zhoushan islands. The exercises are scheduled to go on for six days. The BBC Mandarin website quotes analysts as saying that the exercises are meant to serve as a warning to Japan in the currently intensifying tensions between Beijing and Tokyo. In the same news article, the BBC also quotes official Chinese media as saying that this was traditionally a season for the Chinese navy to conduct live-ammunition exercises, to improve naval combat capabilities. They were not threatening other countries. Chinese media had emphasized that the exercises were conducted in waters distant from disputed areas like the Scarborough Shoal (Huangyan Island, part of disputes with the Philippines) or Senkaku islands (Diaoyu Islands, part of a dispute with Japan). China’s navy had conducted exercises off the Chinese east coast in 2010, too, the BBC article concludes. The current exercises’ scope was slightly expanded, compared to two years ago.

Meantime, China Youth Daily, as quoted by Enorth (Tianjin), warns its readers that the Japanese government’s little tricks (小动作) are continuing. China Youth Daily quotes a Yomiuri Shimbun article of Tuesday as saying that people may be allowed to gather on the island for memorial activities. This, Beijing Youth points out, could indicate a change in the Japanese government’s policy of not allowing Japanese citizens to enter the island.

On June 30, 1945, two ships carrying about 200 Japanese nationals left Ishigaki port for Taiwan, and were detected and sunk by U.S. military aircraft, near Senkaku Islands, writes Beijing Youth.

The Senkaku Islands are under the jurisdiction of Ishigaki (Okinawa Prefecture), and Ishigaki’s city assembly, in April, reportedly called on the central government to buy the portion of the Senkaku Islands not under central government ownership, according to Yomiuri Online. The city assembly didn’t see Ishigaki itself in a position to do so, as financial conditions didn’t warrant such a move.

While the Chinese naval exercises seem to be held several hundred kilometers north of the Senkaku Islands, three Chinese fishery patrol boats intruded into Japanese territorial waters off the Senkaku Islands between 4:30 a.m. and 7:30 a.m on Wednesday, according to the Japanese Coast Guard as quoted by Yomiuri Online on Thursday. China reaffirms sovereignty, the English-language “Global Times” expained on Thursday.

The Japanese and Chinese foreign ministers are due to hold talks on the sidelines of the Asean forum in Cambodia over the islands, the BBC reported on Wednesday.

3 Responses to “East China Sea / Senkakus: Naval Exercises and Little Tricks”

  1. These little islands are a gift to nationalists in all the countries concerned. They have no native population so there is no question of the people there ever taking a view on which country they wanted to live in (unlike, say, the Falklands, Gibraltar, Taiwan etc.). They have little intrinsic value so the question of who owns them never becomes a vital one. Instead, year after year they produce excuses to whip up public opinion against foreigners.

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  2. It seems to me that this line in a BBC “Q & A” describes it best: They matter because they are close to strategically important shipping lanes, offer rich fishing grounds and are thought to contain oil deposits. An article by China News Service published today (see trackback July 15 above underneath) atually quotes an academic who suggests that, among two other possible outcomes of the row, the Japanese government may go ahead with buying the islands, under pressure from the domestic right-wing forces.

    But I guess the Japanese government could do without the issue. If it is true that China played the rare-earth card against the Japanese industry in summer 2010, I believe that the islands aren’t actually the source of the trouble. They are only a starting point of convenience for Beijing to bully its way through the East and the South China Sea.

    And for countries like the Philippines, similar disputes with Beijing are probably quite an existential issue, and no convenient source of national(ist) identity.

    I think nationalists in China will basically keep suspecting the CCP of being weaklings, and Japanese nationalists will meticulously record their prime ministers’ visits to, or absence from, the Yasukuni Shrine, among a number of other criteria. They’ll never run out of issues. Nationalists, in my view, are some sort of omnivores. Whatever they get, it will never be enough, in terms of territory, wealth, or other peoples’ “respect”.

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