The history of conflict between the nations of Japan and China is a long one. However for the latter half of the last century, it seemed quiet. That was shattered over the past week with a string of violent protests breaking out throughout China targeted at the Japanese governments purchase of several small islands from the Kurihara family on September 11th.
The islands, small rocks in the Pacific, called the Diaoyu islands by China and the Senkaku islands by Japan, are the centerpiece of the rapid erosion in relations between the two Asian powers. As a result, multiple Japanese businesses have shut down their Chinese factories, many Japanese websites have been attacked and numerous protests broke out. The vice chairman of the Central Military Commission of China, General Xu Caihou, has ordered the preparations for military engagement against the island nation as the Chinese move their navy into position around the islands.
U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta has been dispatched to the region and has urged restraint. In addition, Kunioki Kurihara, the spokesperson for the family which owns the disputed islands, has urged the nations to settle the ownership claims at the International Court of Justice.
The origin of the dispute goes back over a century. The first Chinese exploration of the islands was in the 15th Century. Japan first laid claim to the islands in 1885. The islands also are claimed by the Republic of China, commonly called Taiwan (Taiwan is separate and distinct from the People’s Republic of China which we know simply as “China.” Don’t ask, it’s a whole thing). As the islands lie on the opposite side of Taiwan from mainland China, they could serve as a base of operations close to the Taiwanese shores. With the islands to serve as a base, Beijing could then apply pressure, harass or even attempt to use military force to topple the republic and return the territory to Beijing’s control.
China has been far more aggressive in its military posturing as of late. They have sent naval forces to engage in Somali pirates, forced down a U.S. reconnaissance plane, even engaging in anti-satellite programs with an eye to thwart spy satellites. This new move is China starting to flex its muscles, and is a sign of the world to come.