The government tends to make a big deal over the Diaoyutais, but it’s a poor subject to garner popular support. Here’s why
If a few years ago you had asked people outside the region whether they had ever heard about the Diaoyutai islets, or the Senkakus as they are known in Japan, the likely answer would be that they had not. That this is no longer the case is in large part due to China’s territorial assertiveness — which has recently become militarized — and Japan’s equally hard-noised response to what it regards as dangerous expansionism. The world started paying attention to those rocks in the middle of the East China Sea because it was feared that the dispute could lead to a military confrontation between the two Asia competitors and perhaps even draw in the U.S., Japan’s security partner. Both sides had “historical rights” and various maps and documents to support their claims, but in the end that didn’t matter, as facts rarely matter when nationalism is involved.
The third claimant — Taiwan — doesn’t get mentioned as often in international media and at academic conferences on the subject, in large part because its stance on the issue has been much less bellicose. It briefly made the news when a flotilla of fishing and coast guard vessels were “fired upon” by the Japanese Coast Guard using water cannons, when overzealous military personnel asserted Taiwan’s claims by jotting a few Chinese characters on a Mk-82 500lb bomb carried by a F-16 aircraft, or when President Ma Ying-jeou proposed his “East China Sea Peace Initiative,” but for the most part Taiwan’s role in the dispute has received little world attention. It, too, has provided various legal documents or referenced historical fishing rights to make its case, but without the bluster, its voice was often ignored.
My article, published today in the China Policy Institute Blog, University of Nottingham, continues here (photo by the author).