OPINION: Islands row needs peace broker

Beijing (China Daily/ANN) - In an escalated conflict that neither side wants but neither can afford to lose, resorting to negotiations is the best way to de-escalate the situation. The territorial dispute between China and Japan over the Diaoyu Islands (known in Japan as Senkaku Islands) calls for such negotiations. However, it is practically difficult for such negotiations to begin.

The Japanese central government tried to create an impression that it "nationalised" the Diaoyu Islands reluctantly. But Japan's motive is widely seen as being different and the Chinese mainland and Taiwan both have strongly opposed it.

China's reaction has been strong. To avoid being held accountable for escalating the dispute, Japan is trying in vain to remain acquiescent.

But inadvertently, it is worsening the situation by giving Japanese people the impression that the Chinese mainland and Taiwan are the ones creating trouble.

Behind the scene, there is the infamously ambivalent United States, which does not have any plan to defuse the situation.

Washington let go of an early opportunity to help defuse the tension when US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton gave just a cautionary nudge to Japan for its indecision over how to deal with Japanese right-wing forces' belligerent attitude toward China in the Diaoyu Islands issue.

For the US, intensification of the dispute between Japan and China, including a military standoff, could be mixed blessings. It would give Washington an opportunity to check out China's military might, check its rise and justify its continued, if not fortified, presence in Asia. These immediate gains to be made by the US explain why it issued a provoking message - that its security treaty with Japan covers the Diaoyu Islands - in the initial stages of the crisis.

But a full-blown conflict could also mean the failure of the US' brinkmanship. The situation could spiral out of the US' control, with the chance, even if little, of drawing Washington into direct confrontation with Beijing.

This US' ambivalence has helped extremists in Japan first wag Tokyo's tail before moving to Washington's tail. The US has wasted its leverage by failing to persuade Japan to repeal the "nationalisation" of the Diaoyu Islands in time.

The dispatching of an envoy by Japan to Beijing was at best a false promise, because envoys sent by Japan to China before a confrontation - in 1894, 1905 and 1931, for example - have not been able to solve any problem, because they have always conveyed a message of "apology": Japan's policy is irrevocable and the other side has to give in to avoid conflict.

Usually, the other side mistakes an envoy as a messenger of peace, which obviously does not apply to Japanese envoys. If this has been Japan's history, how can China accept Japan's "apology". It is even more difficult for China to accept it because it believes Japan is getting ready for a showdown.

Neither side wants a war. But neither is ready to back down from its adamant position. A compromise doesn't seem to be in the offing, because unilateral initiation by any of the two sides would be seen as surrender.

For simultaneous reconciliatory moves, however, the two sides first need to resume talks.

This too is unlikely because the situation has reached such a stage that even a hint by one of the two sides of its willingness to negotiate could be interpreted as surrender. The standoff seems to have shut off all windows of mutual benefits between China and Japan.

The US could have persuaded the two sides to open a window of negotiations. But it has lost its credibility for shamelessly seeking to cash in on the situation in the early stage of the crisis.

The only concerned party that could threaten no one else and has remained friendly connected with other sides is Taiwan. Perhaps Taiwan can shuttle between the mainland and Japan to settle the dispute as an intermediary.

Only if the two sides, especially Japan, revert to their previous stance of "shelving disputes" to deal with more pressing issues can the crisis be prevented from spiralling out of control.

The author is a professor of political science at National Taiwan University.


Editor’s note:Yahoo Philippines encourages responsible comments that add dimension to the discussion. No bashing or hate speech, please. You can express your opinion without slamming others or making derogatory remarks.

  • AFP monitoring deployment of Chinese seaplanes in Spratlys
    AFP monitoring deployment of Chinese seaplanes in Spratlys

    The Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) is adopting a wait and see approach amid reports that China will soon deploy seaplanes to further strengthen its maritime claims in the disputed Spratlys. Brig. Gen. Joselito Kakilala, spokesman for the military and commander of the AFP Civil Relations Service, said they have yet to ascertain the real purpose behind China’s continuing aggressive moves in the region. “We will wait and see before coming up with an official stand,” Kakilala said when …

  • US eyes access to Phl bases in 8 locations
    US eyes access to Phl bases in 8 locations

    The United States has asked for access to Philippine military bases in eight locations to rotate troops, aircraft and ships as Washington shifts its forces to Asia and as China expands its military presence in the South China Sea. US Defense Secretary Ash Carter, in a speech in Arizona, has outlined Washington’s next phase in its Asia “pivot,” deploying its most sophisticated destroyers, bombers and fighters to the region. The Asia “pivot” has already seen US Marines rotating through the …

  • Washington bucks China’s aggressive actions
    Washington bucks China’s aggressive actions

    Short of condemning China’s aggressive actions in the West Philippine Sea, a senior US military official said Washington does not support any act of coercion and bullying. “We don’t stand for coercion, bullying and aggressiveness,” said Brig. Gen. Christopher Mahoney, assistant US military director for  Phl-US Joint Balikatan Exercises 2015. At the sidelines of this year’s joint military exercises’ static aircraft display held at Clark Air Base in Pampanga, Mahoney told a media briefing that …

  • ‘Giving Bangsamoro police control is constitutional’
    ‘Giving Bangsamoro police control is constitutional’

    The proposed grant to the chief minister of the envisioned Bangsamoro region of operational control over police forces in the area is consistent with the Constitution, a senior administration lawmaker said yesterday. It is clear in the proposed BBL that the Bangsamoro police will be part of the Philippine National Police (PNP), while the Bangsamoro Regional Police Board (BRPB) will be part of the National Police Commission (Napolcom) and will carry out Napolcom’s mandate in the region,” he …

  • Noy off to KL for Asean meet
    Noy off to KL for Asean meet

    President Aquino will arrive here this afternoon with Manila hopeful of support from the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) to achieve peace and stability in the West Philippine Sea (South China Sea) as well as economic prosperity and inclusive growth among the people in the region. Philippine Ambassador to Malaysia Jose Eduardo Malaya III said that with respect to the dramatic developments in the South China Sea, Malaysian Foreign Minister Anifah Aman had called for the early …

  • Madrid Fusion Manila reignites Pinoy appetite for great food
    Madrid Fusion Manila reignites Pinoy appetite for great food

    After months of preparation and hard work from both the government and private sectors, the future of food is finally here in the country’s capital. Madrid Fusión Manila opened its doors on Friday to an international delegation who eagerly awaited the discussions of some of the most renowned and revered names in the culinary world. Madrid Fusión Manila is a historic gastronomic event marked by talks and exhibitions that showcases Spain and the Philippines’ shared cultural heritage, as well as …

  • Family receives execution order, visits Mary Jane
    Family receives execution order, visits Mary Jane

    As Philippine officials continue to plead for a stay in the execution of death convict Mary Jane Veloso, the Indonesian government has sent a notice to her family ordering her execution at an undisclosed date, the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) said yesterday. Foreign Affairs spokesman Charles Jose said Indonesian authorities also allowed Veloso’s family and her lawyers to visit her on Nebu Kambangan execution island. “The Prosecutor gave notice letter to the family of Mary Jane …

  • ‘Pinoys’ cheerful attitude backs tourism campaign’
    ‘Pinoys’ cheerful attitude backs tourism campaign’

    The 2015 World Happiness Report ranking the Philippines as 90th among 158 happiest countries is a validation of the government’s tourism campaign, “It’s more fun in the Philippines,” a Palace official said yesterday. The news did not come as a surprise as Filipinos are naturally cheerful, Secretary Herminio Coloma Jr. of the Presidential Communications Operations Office said. …


Should Aquino be held accountable over the Mamasapano operations?

Poll Choice Options