Why China, Japan, and S. Korea aren't backing down on island disputes (+video)
Fired up by increasingly nationalist politics at home, China, Japan, and S. Korea are reluctant to be seen as backing down on the issue of sovereignty.
(Page 2 of 2)
One of China’s concerns is whether a new government in Tokyo, likely to be in power within months, will honor any promises Japan makes now regarding what it intends to do with the islands.Skip to next paragraph
Subscribe Today to the Monitor
Japan’s prime minister, Yoshihiko Noda, may be forced into an election as early as November, with his Democratic Party of Japan trailing badly in the polls. Meanwhile, China’s Hu Jintao will be replaced as leader at the 18th National Congress of the Communist Party, expected to take place in Beijing in October. Both risk significant blows to their pride and legacy, should they lose ground on sovereignty before they go.
“This is now a very serious and dangerous game of chicken between China and Japan,” says Zhu Jian Rong, a Chinese expert on East Asia relations, speaking in Tokyo on Tuesday. “It’s like a war situation, where neither side can show any weakness or compromise.”
Simple economics to the rescue?
South Korean President Lee Myung Bak’s term ends soon, too, and an election set for Dec. 19 appears to be behind the flaring up of another of Japan’s current island disputes, that of Takeshima, known as Dokdo in Korean.
Mr. Lee visited the islands in August, the first Korean leader to do so, and then demanded the Japanese emperor apologize for his country’s wartime aggression before he be allowed to visit Korea again. The visit and Lee’s pronouncement about the emperor were seen as provocative by Tokyo, raising tensions after a period of warming relations between the two countries. Some analysts have suggested that Lee’s actions are motivated by a desire to be seen as standing up to Japan, as his approval ratings had dropped below 20 percent. Lee apparently got a 5 percent approval bump after the visit, according to polls.
“Any claim by Japan toward the Dokdo islands is seen like an invasion and reminds Koreans of Japanese colonial rule,’ said Professor Hyun.
The escalating standoff prompted Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton to hold talks with both sides on the final day of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation meeting in the Russian port of Vladivostok on Sunday, in an attempt to cool tensions between America’s two closest allies in the region.
In the end, simple economics may prevent the disputes between the three neighbors from boiling over into more serious conflicts.
“The trade between China, South Korea, and Japan is now on a massive scale,” says Professor Zhu. “China is now Japan’s biggest trading partner, and it is the economic consequences of any military action that is likely to stop either side using force first.”