Tuesday, January 22, 2013

The war of words escalates in East Asia

Japanese protest over the Senkaku dispute
By allowing the situation to spiral downwards, politicians create an environment that becomes increasingly conducive to misinterpretation and accidents 

More and more, the dispute between Japan and China over the Senkaku/Diaoyu Islands in the East China Sea is starting to look like the train wreck that everybody sees coming but feels powerless to prevent. Unless cooler heads prevail, and do so soon, the escalation — now a weekly affair — could turn quite nasty indeed. 

The signs were not encouraging at the third Sino-U.S. Colloquium in Hong Kong on Sunday, where Takujiro Hamada, a former Japanese deputy foreign minister, read a speech written by Yachi Shotaro, the top foreign policy adviser to Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe. While there was initial cause for hope, as this was the first time the Japanese sent delegates to the forum, which also counted two retired four-star U.S. generals, the speech sparked a strong response from the Chinese. 

While effort should be made to encourage the Japanese and Chinese to engage in dialogue to defuse tensions, relations between the two countries have deteriorated to a point where the two sides often talk past one another. Consequently, rather than foster cooperation, meetings can have the opposite effect by exacerbating the situation. This is exactly what transpired at the forum this weekend. 

My article, published today in The Diplomat, continues here.

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